Gender Politics in the US Criminal Justice System

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Gender Politics in the US Criminal Justice System

The state of women in the United States criminal justice system, an apparently fair organization of integrity and justice, is a perfect example of a seemingly equal situation, which turns out to be anything but. While the policies imposed in the criminal justice system have an effect on all Americans, they affect men and women in extremely dissimilar manners. By looking at the United States' history of females in the criminal justice system, the social manipulation of these females and the everlasting affects that incarceration have on all women, both in and out of prison, this essay will explore the use of the criminal justice system as simply another form of control from which there is no hope of escape. This system of control then leads to the examination of the everlasting, yet never successful, female struggle to balance the private sphere of domesticity with the public sphere of society and the criminal justice system's attempt to keep women within the boundaries of the private.

For centuries women who have entered the justice system have been oppressed, because the system was and still is a system designed by a patriarchal society and implemented primarily to control wayward males. The witch hunts in 17th century New England, is the first of many examples in which society exerted control over women by labeling them 'witches,' yet leaving the men alone. The primary determinant of who was designated a witch was gender, in fact eighty percent of all those killed were women. Of those women, females who were spinsters or widows, rather than wives or mothers "were represented disproportionately among the witches." In the 1800's, imprisoned women suffered the same terrible...

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...ource Availability for Women at Risk," unpublished paper presented at the American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting, Chicago, November 1987.

9 Nancy Rubin, "Women Behind Bars," McCall's, August 1987

10 Estelle B. Freedman, Their Sisters' Keepers: Women's Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981)

11 Estelle B. Freedman, Their Sisters' Keepers: Women's Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981)

12 Shelly Bannister, op. cit., argues that women who respond to male violence with physical resistance, and are incarcerated as a result, should be viewed as political prisoners.

13 Sandy Rovner, "Abused Women Who Kill," Judgment, vol. 10, no. 2, June 1987

14 Nicole Hahn Rafter, Partial Justice: Women in State Prisons 1800-1935 (Boston: New England University Press, 1985)
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