Breaking Women

Breaking Women: Gender, Race, and the New Politics of Imprisonment

Jill A. McCorkel
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Breaking Women
    Book Description:

    Since the 1980s, when the War on Drugs kicked into high gear and prison populations soared, the increase in women's rate of incarceration has steadily outpaced that of men. InBreaking Women, Jill A. McCorkel draws upon four years of on-the-ground research in a major US women's prison to uncover why tougher drug policies have so greatly affected those incarcerated there, and how the very nature of punishment in women's detention centers has been deeply altered as a result.Through compelling interviews with prisoners and state personnel, McCorkel reveals that popular so-called habilitation drug treatment programs force women to accept a view of themselves as inherently damaged, aberrant addicts in order to secure an earlier release. These programs work to enforce stereotypes of deviancy that ultimately humiliate and degrade the women. The prisoners are left feeling lost and alienated in the end, and many never truly address their addiction as the programs' organizers may have hoped. A fascinating and yet sobering study,Breaking Womenforegrounds the gendered and racialized assumptions behind tough-on-crime policies while offering a vivid account of how the contemporary penal system impacts individual lives.Jill A. McCorkelis Associate Professor of Sociology at Villanova University.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8948-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Searching for Red’s Self
    (pp. 1-18)

    “I’m lost, I’ve had to surrender my self.” As Red says this, she curls her fingers into a loose fist and raps her chest as if to indicate the part of her that has gone missing.¹ We are sitting in a shaded corner of the prison’s recreation yard awaiting word on whether her release paperwork will be processed in time for her to return home to celebrate her son’s fourth birthday. She learned the day before that she had successfully completed all five of the “transformation phases” of an experimental, intensive drug treatment program that was housed in a separate...

    • 1 Getting Tough on Women: How Punishment Changed
      (pp. 21-49)

      Warden Richardson looked uncomfortable during the press conference. He was a large man with a commanding presence, but today, as he waited to be introduced, he was decidedly unsettled. He alternately shifted his weight forward onto the balls of his feet and then backward onto his heels until he lost his balance and had to be steadied by a correctional officer. He fumbled with his watchband, wiped his eyeglasses, and elaborately folded and refolded his handkerchief before returning it to his pocket. When it was finally his turn to speak, he appeared startled and asked a well-dressed man to his...

    • 2 Taking Over: The Private Company in the Public Prison
      (pp. 50-69)

      Accountability committee meetings are held once a month in the conference room adjacent to the warden’s office. Attendance is by invitation only and limited to supervisory staff from various units and departments within the prison. All told, there are eleven regular attendees who are “accountable” to the warden, including the deputy warden, the heads of the education and medical departments, the prison chaplain, the senior prison counselor, the records clerk, the head of the classification committee, and the lieutenants and staff lieutenants who oversee the small army of correctional officers and support personnel throughout the prison. The meetings follow the...

    • 3 From Good Girls to Real Criminals: Race Made Visible
      (pp. 70-94)

      The warden’s office is nestled in the corner of the prison’s administration wing, which lies to the far right of the prison’s main hallway and is comfortably removed from the noise and bustle that characterizes the rest of the facility. Were it not for the sound of the ponderous metal door that announces the arrival and departure of staff and visitors alike with a thunderous clang and the buzz of a passing correctional officer’s walkie-talkie, a person standing in the administration wing could readily forget that he or she was in a medium security prison. The pale yellow walls of...

    • 4 The Eyes Are Watching You: Finding the Real Self
      (pp. 97-121)

      One of the earliest stops for newly sentenced prisoners as they arrive in the prison is the classification committee. Prior to PHW’s arrival, the classification committee’s central tasks were to make housing assignments and to determine whether an inmate was eligible to earn “good time” credits through participation in work, educational, or rehabilitative programs.¹ In the wake of organizational restructuring and PHW, the classification committee’s work took on added significance. They were now charged with selecting those prisoners who would serve out their sentences in the experimental program. Classification committee members include prison administrators and key staff members (including the...

    • 5 Diseased Women: Crack Whores, Bad Mothers, and Welfare Queens
      (pp. 122-152)

      On any given day, someone passing by the PHW unit may overhear counselors addressing prisoners as “crack hos,” “lowdown addicts,” and “dirty old dogs,” and admonishing them to “tighten the fuck up.” When prisoners recount their initial impressions of PHW, they speak first of language, particularly the use of derogatory names. Visitors to the program as well as prison staff who work outside it make a similar set of observations. For each of these groups, what primarily distinguishes PHW from other units in the prison is not the visual imagery of cells arranged in a semicircle or the brooding posters...

    • 6 Rentin’ Out Your Head: Navigating Claims about the Self
      (pp. 155-180)

      For its first five years of operation, PHW held an annual press conference to celebrate the date the program first opened its doors at the prison. Among the guests regularly in attendance were a number of politicians (including a U.S. senator and East State’s governor), local judges, representatives from the Committee, university researchers, news reporters from three local papers, and two television crews—one from a large, regional news station and the other from a small, local station. All the press conferences followed a similar format. PHW’s director, Joanne Torrence, would welcome everyone to the facility, and then several invited...

    • 7 Unruly Selves: Forms of Prisoner Resistance
      (pp. 181-212)

      One summer afternoon, a prisoner I did not know passed me a note as I walked down the long corridor to the PHW unit. It turned out that the note was from Meesha, an African American prisoner in her early twenties who had recently been kicked out of the program. In it, she indicated that she had been placed in the prison’s maximum security housing unit and that she urgently needed to speak with me. I received permission from the deputy warden to visit her later that week. As we spoke, she recounted a long list of flagrant rule violations...

  9. CONCLUSION: What If the Cure Is Worse Than the Disease?
    (pp. 213-228)

    When I returned to East State Women’s Correctional Institution two years after the conclusion of my original study, I was greeted at the front gate by Lil’ Toya, a prisoner who was still there serving time on her conviction for possession of crack cocaine. “Welcome to hell,” she said. Then, rolling her eyes and nodding in the direction of a security camera lodged in the corner of the ceiling, she commented, “You in prison now, Jill. They made it for real since you been gone.” The prison was a different place than when it had opened its doors in 1992....

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 229-250)
    (pp. 251-262)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 263-271)
    (pp. 272-272)