The Chicago Reporter, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and NPR has issued a report finding that women in Illinois ( and prisons across the country), are punished more than male inmates for usually minor violations. They analyzed data from fifteen states, which tracked punishments by gender, visited four different prison systems, and interviewed current and released incarcerated women, academics, and prison staff–correctional officers
Even though female inmates committed less violent acts in prison than male inmates, they received more disciplinary tickets for minor offenses. The review of fifteen state’s prison data for 2016–2017, reported the same finding. Female inmates were disciplined at higher rates than male inmates, for minor offenses. The report revealed:
Vermont female inmates received at least three times more tickets for derogatory comments, than male prisoners. In California, women were more than twice as likely than male inmates to be disciplined for “disrespect without potential for violence.” In Rhode Island, women were given three times more tickets for disobedience, than male prisoners. The Indiana rate of discipline was more than double for women inmates, compared to male prisoners.
To make this gender discrimination problem worse, punishments for minor infractions were usually more harsh for female inmates. Rhode Island female inmates were more than three times as likely to be placed in restrictive housing for “disobedience,”than male inmates. In Idaho prisons, although men were more likely to assault both staff and other inmates, women were more likely to be placed in physical restraints. In California, women had their phone privileges revoked, more than male inmates–a punishment that affects a mother, and her children.
In the 1980s, Texas A&M University professor Dorothy McClellan reviewed disciplinary practices at men’s and women’s prisons in Texas. The professor found “two distinct institutional forms of surveillance and control.” Women received more disciplinary tickets than men, the majority for minor, non-violent offenses. Texas women inmates received more time in solitary confinement and stricter restrictions for family visits.
Monica Cosby was incarcerated in Illinois for 20 years. She received numerous discipline tickets and solitary confinement punishments for various minor offenses.
“You’ll get a ticket or get sent to seg [solitary confinement] for having… a piece of candy,” she said. “Or you have a library book that’s overdue — and you’re on your way to the library.”
Since her release three years ago, Monica Cosby has become an outspoken activist, demanding better services for incarcerated and returning women. She is part of a new Illinois Statewide Women’s Justice Taskforce.
Cosby stated, “Until there are radical changes in our culture and the way we value women overall — not just in the prison system, but in our culture that built the prison system — it’s going to continue to be this way.”