Twenty-Year Sentences

Women’s Writing Workshops in US Prisons and Jails
Part of the Comparative Feminist Studies Series book series (CFS)


Women remain the fastest growing population within the US prison system, and, as Alicia Partnoy (2002) insists, they need to be heard. Between 1990 and 1998, imprisonment rates for women, particularly women of color, rose 88 percent (Greenfeld and Snell 2000, 6). African American women’s incarceration is eight times that of white women and the rate for Hispanic women is four times that of white women (Amnesty International 1999, 5). As Angela Davis (2003) and others have argued, the issues faced by incarcerated women in the United States are different than those experienced by men. Women are most often locked up on nonviolent charges, often due to substance abuse, sentencing policies, and a host of systemic social problems (e.g., employment inequity, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and food security). Over 44 percent of women experienced physical or sexual abuse prior to their incarceration, mostly occurring before age 18 (Greenfeld and Snell 2000, 8; Davis 2003, 77-83). Lesbian, bisexual, and transwomen are regularly silenced and/or experience physical, verbal, and sexual abuse; they remain largely absent from official gender and sexuality policy (Petersen et al. 1996; Martinez 2010; Justice Action 2011). Over 40 percent of women in state prisons have less than a high school education (Harlow 2003, 5). Over 1.5 million children have a parent in prison; since 1991, the number of children with a mother in prison is up by 131 percent (Glaze and Maruschak 2009, 2). These statistics point to the complexity of women’s incarceration and to the danger of packaging women into boxes that define their identities solely upon criminality.


Justice Action County Jail Incarcerate Woman Woman Prisoner Sentencing Policy 
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© Linzi Manicom and Shirley Walters 2012

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