Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mean Lives, Mean Laws

Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma's Women Prisoners

Susan F. Sharp
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 210
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mean Lives, Mean Laws
    Book Description:

    Oklahoma has long held the dubious honor of having the highest female incarceration rate in the country, nearly twice the national average. In this compelling new book, sociologist Susan Sharp sets out to discover just what has gone so wrong in the state of Oklahoma-and what that might tell us about trends in female incarceration nationwide.The culmination of over a decade of original research,Mean Lives, Mean Lawsexposes a Kafkaesque criminal justice system, one that has no problem with treating women as collateral damage in the War on Drugs or with stripping female prisoners of their parental rights. Yet it also reveals the individual histories of women who were jailed in Oklahoma, providing intimate portraits of their lives before, during, and after their imprisonment. We witness the impoverished and abusive conditions in which many of these women were raised; we get a vivid portrait of their everyday lives behind bars; and we glimpse the struggles that lead many ex-convicts to fall back into the penal system.Through an innovative methodology that combines statistical rigor with extensive personal interviews, Sharp shows how female incarceration affects not only individuals, but also families and communities. Putting a human face on a growing social problem,Mean Lives, Mean Lawsraises important questions about both the state of Oklahoma and the state of the nation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6277-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Oklahoma has long led the nation in the rate of female imprisonment. At the time of the writing of this book, the per capita incarceration rate in Oklahoma (135 per 100,000) was double the national rate (67 per 100,000) (Guerino, Harrison, and Sabol 2011). This is not surprising, as Oklahoma also ranks low in indicators related to the well-being of women. For example, Oklahoma ranks 48th in the United States in the percentage of women with health insurance and first in poor mental health among women (Institute for Women’s Policy Research 2010). Overall, it ranks 45th out of the states...

  6. Chapter 1 Mean Lives: A Theoretical Framework
    (pp. 7-22)

    Although the public attitude is often that women offenders are mean or bad, the real stories are far more complex. It is impossible to understand the choices of women who offend without placing those choices in the context of the women’s lives and social placement. Today there is an evolving understanding of women who offend, but that has not always been the case. Historically, women offenders have either been ignored or seen as abnormal, because they not only violated the laws but also gender norms.

    Forty years ago, there was little information on women who offended or on women’s imprisonment....

  7. Chapter 2 Mean Laws: The Rise in Female Imprisonment
    (pp. 23-45)

    The increase in the population of Oklahoma’s women’s prisons is not unique, but reflective of a trend throughout the United States, where overall prison populations grew during the late 1980s and early 1990s. By 2005 the United States had more than two million people in prison, the highest incarceration rate in the world (Jacobson 2005; Shelden 2010). Before we can examine the laws and policies in Oklahoma, we need an overview of the changing laws that affected the rate of imprisonment in this country. Many of these changing laws targeted less serious offenders and drug offenders. Women offenders are more...

  8. Chapter 3 Mean Women or Mean Lives? Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Abuse of Women Prisoners
    (pp. 46-64)

    When I first moved to the state in 1996, the largest women’s correctional facility, the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center was located in Oklahoma City and housed approximately 350 women. In 1998, the Central Oklahoma Correctional Center, a private women’s prison in McLoud, Oklahoma, was opened. The prison housed Oklahoma women as well as women from other states such as Hawaii and Wyoming. In 2001, reports of sexual abuse by guards and rampant drug use began to emerge, and so the state purchased the facility in 2003 for $40 million and moved Mabel Bassett to this location. The facility has a...

  9. Chapter 4 The Prison Experience
    (pp. 65-72)

    Until the realignment of Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) and creation of the Division for Female Offender Operations in 2008, female offenders entered the system through the Lexington Assessment Center, the same place where men entered. Since 2008, women have been assessed at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center where the administration uses gender-sensitive assessment tools. The entire system has been revamped, in recognition that women prisoners are qualitatively different from men. In the words of a recent warden, “It’s icing on the cake, in terms of meeting them at the door” (Riggs 2008).

    The process involves medical, educational, and mental health...

  10. Chapter 5 Going Back Again
    (pp. 73-101)
    Juanita Ortiz

    Very little research has been conducted on female offenders and their experiences with reentry. Even less research exists on female recidivism and the factors that influence women’s return to crime. To prevent their recidivism, it is important to understand the challenges individuals face upon leaving prison. While many reentry needs of female offenders are similar to those of male offenders, some of those needs are unique. Many female offenders live below the poverty line, both at the time of incarceration and following release (Jacobs 2000; Olson, Lurigio, and Seng 2000; Severance 2004; Holtfreter, Reisig, and Morash 2004). Women also have...

  11. Chapter 6 Coming Home and Staying Out
    (pp. 102-122)

    Chapter 6 explored the experiences of women who had returned to prison. In this chapter, we turn to the experiences of a group of women who have successfully stayed out of prison. Both groups of women face the same issues upon release, including employment, housing, transportation, economic, and family issues. However, those who have stayed out successfully have learned to negotiate reentry in a more positive manner. By examining the experiences of those who have stayed out one or more years, we can uncover some of the attributes that have led to success. In turn, that could lead to the...

  12. Chapter 7 The Children and Their Caregivers
    (pp. 123-139)

    Because of the poverty of the state, life is not easy for many children in Oklahoma. More than 24 percent were living in poverty in 2010 (Kids Count 2012). Additionally, more than 6,000 children were living in foster care (either familial or nonfamilial), many of them children of women prisoners. The state provides limited resources to those families who have taken on the children of women prisoners. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Child-Only payment for one child is only $87, and for three children only $241. The foster care payment is $365 per child for those family members...

  13. Chapter 8 Winds of Change
    (pp. 140-150)

    Oklahoma is a state of contradictions. Viewed by much of the nation as one of the most conservative states in the country due to its voting record in national elections, it is also a state with a populist history and a strong distrust of elitism. At the same time, it is a state whose major income comes from the oil and gas industry. Those two characteristics may appear to be in conflict, but often they are complementary, with contributions from leaders in the petroleum industry being the largest source of philanthropy in the state. The conservatism and punitive stance of...

  14. Chapter 9 Lessons Learned and Moving Forward
    (pp. 151-158)

    The lives of women prisoners in Oklahoma are bleak: before, during, and after their imprisonment. The research reported in this book documents their lives of poverty, abuse, mental illness, and substance abuse, and the women’s voices help contextualize their lives and their struggles. These struggles occur in an environment that is harsh and punitive, with laws that tend to put offenders away and out of sight for extended periods of time rather than intervening to help those with mental health and substance abuse problems. While there are definitely changes occurring in some parts of the state’s leadership, the laws have...

  15. Appendix A: Research Methods
    (pp. 159-164)
  16. Appendix B: Oklahoma Children of Incarcerated Parents
    (pp. 165-166)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 167-168)
  18. References
    (pp. 169-186)
  19. Index
    (pp. 187-190)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 191-194)