Doerner, Jill

Advisor Department

Sociology and Anthropology




Female Offenders; Neglect; Criminal Justice System; Programs; Treatment

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.


In society, and within the criminal justice system, women have always been deemed insignificant and many of their problems have been neglected. Even as time has progressed, convicted women's physical and mental needs are still disregarded as well as their motivation, risk, and recidivism rates. Since the late 1800s, the number of incarcerated women has risen. This indicates a need for change in the current system to decrease the population of female offenders and their likelihood of becoming repeat offenders. In order to determine what aspects have worked and which ones need to be revised, different time periods need to be analyzed to advance the current system’s programs for women. I analyzed women’s stories and collected data from the Reformatory Era then compared that to today’s female prisons in hope of finding solutions to current issues.

During the late 1800’s, when women were sent to Reformatories, the middle class devised a system in which women that committed petty and minor crimes would be institutionalized in order to reform their actions into that of “traditional” women. This meant being a servant to their husband and being skilled in domestic tasks such as sewing, cooking, and childcare. Several issues arose with the types of treatments and programs, along with the fact that the women who didn’t obey would be considered “feeble-minded” and sent to psychiatric hospitals. Even though this does not occur anymore there are still ongoing issues in today’s prison systems. For instance, there is still a lack of programs, treatments, or healthcare designed specifically for female offenders inside and outside of the prison system. In addition, a significant number of female offenders are single mothers, a possible motivation for criminal behavior, as a woman may steal food or money for her child. This factor is important when considering reforms.

My hope is that this information can educate others on the way in which female offenders are still lacking the proper care and programs inside and outside of prisons. There are several ways in which the prison system can be modified to ensure female prisoners are deterred from further crime and adapt back into society. There needs to be gender-specific programming due to differences in crime, the amount of victimization women face, and their emotional attachment to loved ones. These programs would be able to aid with parenting skills, trauma, abuse or victimization, as well as create support networks and offer different opportunities and treatments for women. Another example is that family and emotional connections can be vital to women. Therefore, housing female offenders closer to home and making visits more accessible are crucial. If any of these changes were to be implemented, this could have a significant impact on the future for female offenders. Thus, educating others on the past and current neglect of female offenders can spread the information and lead to future improvements.