Feminist Criminology

For the past several decades, U. S. prisons have done little more than warehouse inmates. Irwin and Austin (1997, p. 62) describe it this way: Convicted primarily of property and drug crimes, hundreds of thousands of prisoners are being crowded into human (or inhuman) warehouses where they are increasingly deprived, restricted, isolated, and consequently embittered and alienated from conventional worlds and where less and less is being done to prepare them for their eventual release.

As a result, most of them are rendered incapable of returning to even a meager conventional life after prison. Simultaneously, as indicated earlier, opportunities for education, vocational training, and recreation have substantially decreased in the prevailing punitive environment of American punishment. Irwin and Austin (1997, p. 80) suggest that fewer than 20% of all prisoners are enrolled in any type of educational program. In fact, some treatment does work for some people (see D. Gottfredson 1999, p. 434).

The hard fact is that, there is very little rehabilitation in American punishment today, mostly because of the widespread but false belief that we do not know what works or how best to use it. A major report by Martinson (reprinted in 2000, p. 23), a criminologist, stated that “with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had not appreciable effect on rehabilitation. ” Such reports led to the decline of the rehabilitative ideal in the 1970s.

In fact, some forms of nurturant strategies are likely to be highly effective at eliminating crime before it even happens (Robinson, 2004). In the end, I believe that the goal of rehabilitation is more important than incarceration. Hence, I argue that the future of criminal justice policy must be directed toward programs that are less punitive and more treatment based. What is the ideological basis for intermediate sanctions? How does the opposing ideology view such sanctions? Are there convincing arguments for either view? If so, what are some of them?

Imprisonment costs approximately $24,000 per year per inmate. Since most offenders do not warrant incarceration, and because probation may not be tough enough for some offenders, a wide array of intermediate sanctions has become available to sentencing judges. But opposing ideology view intermediate sanctions of social control for enforcing society’s standards as most likely to deter if they injure “the social standing by the punishment” and make “the individual feel a danger of being excluded from the group” (Zimring &Hawkins, 1993).

The United States bases assumptions about what punishes on the norms and living standards of society at large. This view overlooks several very important facts: First, most serious offenders neither accept nor abide by those norms; and second, most incarcerated people today come from communities where conditions fall far below the living standards that most Americans would accept. The national shame is that for many people who go to prison, the conditions inside are not all that different from, and might even be better than, the conditions outside.

Social isolation is the second presumably punitive aspect of imprisonment. When a person goes to prison, however, he or she seldom feels isolated but is likely to find friends, if not family, already there. (Petersilia, 1990). Furthermore, it seems plausible that prison life is not perceived as being as difficult as it once was. Inmates’ actions speak loudly in this respect: More than 50 percent of today’s inmates have served a prior prison term.

Knowing what prison is like, these inmates evidently still believe the “benefits” of committing a new crime outweigh the costs of being in prison. (Todd, 1992). We must wonder how punitive the prison experience is for such offenders. Finally, the stigma of having a prison record is not the same as it was in the past, because so many of the offenders’ peers and family members also have done time. One survey found that 40 percent of youths in state training schools had parents who had also been incarcerated. (Beck et al. , 1998). Imprisonment also confers status in some neighborhoods.

Gang members have repeatedly stated that incarceration was not a threat because they knew their sentence would be minimal. To many people, serving a prison term is a badge of courage. It also is their source of food, clothing, and shelter. (8)  These  demand that society determine whether it is time to seriously consider alternatives to incarceration. Probation and parole administrators might question whether conventional probation and parole are effective alternatives to prison sentences in all cases or whether other alternatives—such as intensive supervision programs—should be implemented.


Barak, G. (1994). Media, process, and the social construction of crime. New York: Garland. Beck, A. , Kline, S. and Greenfield, L. (1998). Survey of Youth in Custody: 1997 U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Beckett, K. , and T. Sasson. (2000). The politics of injustice: Crime and punishment in America. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Bureau of Justice Assistance. (1993). Online: www. ojp. usdoj. gov/bja.