Gender and Punishment
Summary and Keywords
In many respects, gender has been missing from the enormous literature on the form and focus of state systems of punishment. This is true in both the historical accounts on shifts in penal practices and the scholarship on the contemporary emergence of mass incarceration. Gender is absent as a category of analysis and as an explanatory variable in these scholarly debates. At the same time, while there is a large literature on women in the criminal justice and penal systems, it rarely addresses broader questions of how and why the penal system has grown in size, deepened in scope, and broadened in reach over the last few decades.
There have been three major approaches to the study of gender and punishment. The first inserted women into accounts of the criminal justice and penal systems, which had historically concentrated on male offenders. Some of this early work used a historical lens to analyze shifts in women’s confinement practices, particularly the evolution of the reformatory in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Influenced by debates in feminist legal theory about sameness and difference, one major line of inquiry sought to determine whether women were treated more leniently than men, particularly with regard to sentencing. A second approach, gaining momentum in the 2000s, shifted the focus from gender differences in outcomes to the gendered dynamics of penal control. More qualitative in nature, this scholarship conceptualized gender as a process that was both transformed and harnessed in penal institutions. Drawing on a broader movement in gender studies, this work focused less on women per se than on how gender was socially constituted. The third and final approach takes seriously the call of critical legal scholars of race and gender to examine the intersections of disadvantage. While academic analyses of intersectionality came to the fore in the 1990s, this perspective made few inroads into penology and criminology until relatively recently. Recent work on the intersection of racialization, masculinity and punishment, and the sexual politics of the prison point to promising new directions that transcend common understandings of criminalization and punishment.
Like the penal system itself, the scholarship on crime and punishment is bifurcated by gender. On the one hand, there is an enormous literature on the form and focus of state systems of punishment: from historical accounts of its shifts (Garland, 2001; Wacquant, 2009; Gottschalk, 2006) to debates about the form, focus, and causes of mass incarceration (Alexander, 2012; Gottschalk, 2014; Aviram, 2015). Particularly in the United States, studies of punishment have become centrally focused on explaining the emergence of mass imprisonment—and on debating the relative influence of economic, political, social, and racial factors in shifts in the penal system over the last forty years. Yet, as Bosworth and Kaufman (2012) point out, gender has been “strangely missing” (p. 186) from those debates, both as an explanatory variable and a category of analysis. On the other hand, there is a large scholarship on women in the criminal justice and penal systems. This work traces the multiple, and often conflicting, patterns of treatment of women and debates whether women-centered corrections is feasible or desirable. Yet, with a few exemptions, this scholarship sidesteps many of the issues preoccupying the larger punishment literature—rarely weighing in on how and why the penal system has grown in size, deepened in scope, and broadened in reach over the last few decades.
While other reviews of research on gender and punishment have tried to bridge these scholarly divides—and thus to show how gender can inform critical studies of punishment—the goal of this review is more limited. The central purpose of our discussion is to trace the twists and turns in focus of those studying women, gender, and punishment. The shift in emphasis of this literature, as well as the larger scholarly debates gender researchers are engaged in, will be discussed. A strong case is made here for how the work of gender scholars has added to the general understanding of who, how, and why we punish as we do. Indeed, like other subfields, studies of gender and punishment have grown more attentive to conceptualizations of gender that extend beyond the male/female dichotomy—with many scholars now viewing gender as a process and a social construct. Like the broader scholarship on gender, studies of gender and punishment have also become more intersectional, revealing how the social production of gender is intricately linked to the categories of race, class, and sexuality.
More specifically, we suggest that there have been three general approaches to the study of gender and punishment—all of which offer their own distinctive contributions to an understanding of state discipline and punishment. First and foremost, there is a vast literature that inserts women into accounts of the criminal justice and penal systems. It asks how women are treated in these systems, whether they experience more lenient treatment, and what it would mean for punishment to be “gender responsive.” Dating back to the 1980s, these accounts still constitute the large bulk of the work in this subfield. While they tend to analyze gender as synonymous with women, their work has taught us an enormous amount about differential penal outcomes for women and men.
By contrast, there are those scholars who are less interested in the gendered outcomes of the penal system and more in its gendered processes—and in the gendered categories that shape, and are shaped by, penal policies and practices. These accounts tend to be more qualitative in method, thus offering smaller scale but more nuanced and situated perspectives on punishment. More recently, analyses have been offered that examine the simultaneous effects of gender, race, class, and sexuality on processes of punishment. This shift toward intersectionality is a welcome development since it more fully captures the dynamics of punishment and the consequences for those they target.
Centering Women in Punishment
Until relatively recently, most of the work in the area of gender and punishment focused on determining women’s outcomes as they interact with punitive institutions. Studies sought to add women to existing accounts of punishment, which at the time revolved around men’s experiences. Some of this earlier work used a historical lens to analyze major shifts in women’s confinement, particularly the rise and fall of the reformatory movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Freedman, 1984; Rafter, 1985). Zedner, in her account on women’s incarceration in 19th-century England, shows how penal practices were shaped by Victorian ideologies of gender (Zedner, 1991). Zedner criticizes histories of penal change in the 19th century for having failed to take gender into account, as part of a larger tendency to “over-schematiz[e]” the history of penal reform at the expense of “plain fact” (Zedner, 1991, p. 97). Zedner writes: “the revisionists take no account of gender. They fail to recognize how notions of appropriate male and female roles figured in the development of penal theory; how far penal policy was directed towards one sex; and how, in practice, the very presence of women in prison generated major anomalies” (1991, p. 97).
One of the first major lines of inquiry that sought to center women in punishment scholarship was the debate about whether women were punished more or less severely than their male counterparts. This orientation evinced the influence of an important debate in feminist legal theory: the sameness and difference debate, which centered on the legal system’s representations of gender and gender-based discrimination. For some, the legal system’s bias was located in its differential treatment of women and by women’s exclusion from rights granted to men. Others problematized the law’s adoption of a male perspective—arguing that the law assumed male norms to be objective and thus obscured social relations of domination between women and men.
These ideas left their mark on the criminological scholarship on gender and sentencing. Some found that women were sentenced more leniently than men, while others insisted on the opposite. Beginning in the 1980s, however, many questioned whether women’s more lenient treatment would become a thing of the past (Kruttschnitt & Green, 1984). Rising rates of incarceration among women in the 1980s and 1990s led some to insist that the gap between women and men’s outcomes was narrowing. Scholars also observed that the conditions under which women were incarcerated increasingly resembled those in male prisons, which was termed “equality with a vengeance” (Chesney-Lind & Pollock, 1995). In response, some policymakers and academics began to call for the implementation of gender-responsive, or woman-centered, corrections. With time, the shortcomings of this model became increasingly apparent as it was found to reinforce gender stereotypes and to be arguably no less punitive than regular prisons.
The Sameness and Difference Debate
The sameness and difference debate emerged in the 1980s, in the context of discussions in feminist jurisprudence about the law’s gender regime. At the heart of the feminist sameness/difference debate was how best to secure fair and equal treatment for women in the criminal justice system. Is this fairness achieved by treating women and men similarly? Or rather by considering women’s distinct characteristics and the prevalence of societal norms and standards that reflect a male perspective? Milkman (1986) observed that the “tension between equality and difference has divided feminists in a variety of contexts” (p. 375). On one side of the debate, “equality feminists” claimed that emphasizing women’s differences with men and allocating benefits and burdens on the basis of these differences led to the reproduction of gender inequality (Haney, 2000; Minow, 1987). On the other side were those who insisted that ignoring these differences contributed to women’s subordination. Treating women like men disadvantaged women because the law’s purportedly objective standards were in fact rooted in male norms, and failed to account for women’s realities. Difference feminists believed that, under a sameness regime, the law failed to recognize the structural inequality that led men and women to be positioned differently in the social world.
The sameness/difference debate was in many ways reflective of second-wave, liberal feminist concerns. With time, it faced various criticisms and evolved in response to them. Some feminists, such as legal scholar Martha Minow (1987), argued that the sameness/difference debate could be transcended by recognizing that difference always implies a hidden standard. As Minow (1987) put it: “Legal treatment of difference tends to take for granted an assumed point of comparison: women are compared to the unstated norm of men, ‘minority’ races to whites, handicapped persons to the able-bodied, and ‘minority’ religions to ‘majorities’” (p. 13). Furthermore, the sameness/difference debate privileged one axis of oppression (gender) when in fact women’s identities could not be reduced to a single dimension. Women experienced various kinds of oppression, and gender oppression in particular, differently according to various social locations. There was no “‘essential’ women’s experience [that] can be isolated and described independently of race, class, sexual orientation, and other realities of experience” (Harris, 1990, p. 585).
While the sameness and difference debate has largely subsided in feminist legal scholarship, it continues to this day in research on crime and punishment. The influence of this debate is clearest in the ongoing scholarship on leniency and severity in sentencing. Much of this work is U.S. based and quantitative in nature—analyzing the differential outcomes between men and women who interact with the criminal justice apparatus.
The Leniency/Severity Debate
Throughout the 1980s, questions of leniency and severity in sentencing generated a great deal of academic interest in gender and criminology. Even decades later, scholars continue to examine these issues, which is itself indicative of its significance in criminology. The leniency/severity debate revolves around a key issue: Are women sentenced less severely than men? Or is the reverse true? Particularly in its early stages, the debate was fueled by a few studies that found women received more lenient sentences than men. Yet others showed that women were sentenced more harshly. To resolve the issue, scholars created increasingly sophisticated and specialized models to assess if, when, and why women were sentenced more leniently/severely than men. As such, this line of scholarship addressed the earlier critique that criminology had been exclusively focused on men’s outcomes and knew very little about how women experienced the criminal justice system (Chesney-Lind, 1989; Smart, 1976).
Two of the most cited hypotheses used to explain gender-based sentencing disparities are the judicial paternalism and the evil woman theses. Judicial paternalism, also referred to as the chivalry hypothesis, has been a recurrent explanation of leniency in women’s sentencing—although the concept itself has been defined in different ways. Daly (1989) argued that “no matter how it is defined, paternalism denotes behaviors or attitudes reflecting judicial protection of women” (p. 10). Paternalism also connotes that women are in need of protection because they are weak, defenseless, and misguided (Moulds, 1978). As such, judicial paternalism reflects the belief that women ought to be protected from difficult, harsh environments, such as the prison, and that gentler and softer environments are more appropriate for them (Moulds, 1978). Judicial paternalism can also imply that women are believed to be less culpable for the crimes they commit and thus are sentenced less severely than men (Rodriguez et al., 2006). Some scholars also extended the concept of paternalism to the behavior of male actors in the criminal justice system. They argued that agents in the criminal justice system held paternalistic attitudes and were less likely to impose harsh sentences on female offenders and more likely to display protective attitudes toward them (Curran, 1983; Curry et al., 2004).
The second of these hypotheses, the “evil woman” thesis, maintained the opposite: that women were sentenced more severely for criminal offenses because they were punished for violating stereotypical gender roles. This was particularly true of those crimes that transgressed gender norms and led to female offenders being viewed as morally corrupt (Nagel & Hagan, 1983). For women whose offenses were consistent with stereotypical expectations of female crime, the courts tended to impose less social control (Simpson & Herz, 2006). However, women who committed more stereotypically “masculine” crimes, such as violent crime, were viewed as more pathological and thus punished with more social control (Simpson & Herz, 2006).
For instance, in the juvenile justice system Chesney-Lind (1977) found that girls were subjected to more severe treatment than boys. Girls who committed status offenses, like truancy, curfew violation, and running away from home, were more likely to have their cases referred to juvenile court (Chesney-Lind & Shelden, 2014). Chesney-Lind (1977) also found that parents had different standards of behavior for girls and boys and expected greater obedience from girls. Parents were more inclined to alert the police when a daughter committed a status offense, thus penalizing them for deviating from gender norms and expectations. Chesney-Lind (1977) also claimed that girls arrested by the police were more likely to be sent to a detention center—and a disproportionate number of girls were detained for juvenile offenses. She argued that this was indicative of paternalism in the justice system—under the guise of protection, the state sought to regulate girls’ sexuality and promote compliance with gender norms (Chesney-Lind, 1977). In more recent work on the juvenile system, Guevara, Herz, and Spohn (2006) found that girls, particularly white girls, were the most likely to receive an out-of-home placement—instead of getting probation or having charges dismissed altogether.
When it comes to adult women, there continues to be considerable debate on gendered patterns in sentencing—that is, if women are sentenced more leniently and to what extent. Although the empirical results are mixed, more contemporary studies point to leniency for women in sentencing (see Rodriguez et al., 2006; Steffensmeier & Demuth, 2006). In an earlier study, Daly and Bordt (1995) synthesized fifty different court data sets used in studies to analyze gender effects. They found that women received less severe sentences in half of the cases, mixed effects in a quarter of them, and no effect in the remaining quarter. A few years later, in a review of the literature on gender, race, and sentencing, Daly and Tonry (1997), concluded that legal factors were the most significant indicators of sentencing outcomes—particularly offense severity and offenders’ criminal history. Offender attributes, such as gender, did not seem to have as great an influence on sentencing outcomes. However, these studies did find that women were more likely to be treated leniently with regard to incarceration decisions (the “in/out decision”), though not when it came to sentence length (Daly & Tonry, 1997).
More recently, in a meta-analysis of fifty-eight studies on gender and sentencing published between 1991 and 2011, Bontrager, Barrick, and Stupi (2013) examined a total of 143 statistical estimates of the effect of gender on sentencing outcomes based on data from the early 1900s to 2006. They found that 65% of the cases were supportive of either the chivalry or paternalism hypothesis, in essence confirming that women were sentenced more leniently. However, they also found marked variation in these patterns over time: Studies on the most recent data period (2000–2006) seemed to indicate that women were increasingly not shown leniency with regard to sentence length, incarceration, or sentencing guideline deviation (Bontrager et al., 2013).
So what explains these gendered patterns of treatment? Here, too, there was debate. Early on, the focus was on the characteristics of female offenders. For instance, in a multivariate analysis of over 1,000 probation cases, Kruttschnitt (1982) found that women who were economically dependent on others were given more lenient sentences than financially independent women. Building on Donald Black’s theory of law and social control, Kruttschnitt claimed there was an inverse relationship between legal control and social control (1982). She argued that the amount of law applied to a defendant varied with the amount of social control she was subjected to (Kruttschnitt, 1982). Because economically dependent women experienced more informal control, judicial decision makers were inclined to sentence them less severely (Kruttschnitt, 1982).
This focus on offender characteristics was then coupled with arguments about judicial attitudes. For example, Daly (1989) distinguished between paternalism directed at women and paternalism directed toward children and families. Based on an interview study of judges in state criminal courts, she argued that the true targets of judges’ paternalism were children and families, not women. Judges’ decisions reflected a desire to balance competing interests: to punish defendants equally versus the judicial interest in maintaining family caregivers (Daly, 1989). As such, both men and women with families were viewed as deserving of leniency (Daly, 1989). And if women got greater leniency than men it was because judges believed women’s roles as caretakers to be more important to children than men’s support (Daly, 1989). That is, while men’s financial contributions could be replaced or supplemented by state support, there was no such substitute for women’s contributions (Daly, 1989).
Another version of this emphasis on judges came from what has been termed “focal concerns theory.” Here the argument was that judges made sentencing decisions based on three focal concerns: offenders’ blameworthiness, dangerousness to the community, and practical constraints (Steffensmeier et al., 1998). But because judges only had a limited amount of time and information, they often resorted to generalizations and stereotypes in evaluating these focal concerns—which were necessary in managing the ambiguity inherent in decision making (Steffensmeier et al., 1998; Koons-Witt et al., 2014). For instance, Steffensmeier, Kramer, and Streifel (1993) conducted multivariate statistical analyses of statewide data from Pennsylvania to reveal that blameworthiness and practical considerations explained some sentencing disparities between men and women. Women were less likely to be sentenced to incarceration because judges believed they were less blameworthy. But women also tended to show more remorse for their offenses, had lesser roles in the crime, and less extensive criminal histories (Steffensmeier et al., 1993). They also showed that practical concerns about the consequences of incarcerating female offenders shaped judges’ decisions—judges were more reluctant to incarcerate women who were pregnant or caring for dependents.
Adding to the complexity of the severity/leniency debate were methodological arguments about the limitations of the data used in many of these studies. Early on, Daly and Tonry (1997) raised various methodological issues to argue that gender effects tended to erode in studies that incorporated more precise information about offense type and criminal histories. More recently, this argument about gender effects was confirmed by Bontrager et al. (2013), who found that studies without control variables for a defendant’s criminal history showed the highest support for the chivalry hypothesis. They thus agreed with Daly and Bordt (1995) that gender and sentence severity could be spurious—since they failed to use the proper controls, particularly those involving prior record (Bontrager et al., 2013).
Some of the work on gender and sentencing also shed light on the particular offenses and contexts under which women were sentenced harshly and revealed how the penal process reinforced gender roles and the gender order. A prime example is Roberts’ (1995) work on how criminal law reifies a patriarchal ideal of selfless motherhood that suppresses women’s selfhood in its treatment of maternal crime. Roberts argues that the criminal justice system punishes deviations from this ideal and stifles women’s resistance by holding women responsible for the violence that occurs in the home, without considering the political context in which violence against women occurs. This has particularly punitive implications for nonwhite and working-class women, who are already perceived as unable to conform to the standard of idealized motherhood (1995).
Equality With a Vengeance
While the existence of gender effects on sentencing outcomes was the subject of vigorous debate, over the last two decades scholars were confronted with a striking new fact: the enormous growth in women’s incarceration. This empirical reality led many researchers to try and understand the apparent trend toward gender equalization in punishment. The rise in women’s incarceration rates in the United States that began in the 1980s was epic: in 1980, 26,378 women were in jail and state/federal prisons, a figure that grew to 215,332 by 2014 (Sentencing Project, 2015). From 1990 to 2000, the number of women in state and federal prisons increased by 125% (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003). The Sentencing Project estimates that, from 1980 to 2015, the rate of increase of women in prison was 50% higher than that of men (Sentencing Project, 2017). This rise was particularly pronounced for nonwhite women: the incarceration rates for African American women almost doubled during the 1990s, while it more than doubled for Native American women from 1990 to 1997 (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003).
Feminist criminologists turned much of their attention to tracking and explaining this growth in women’s incarceration. Many attributed it to the war on drugs’ stricter penalties for drug offenses as well as sentencing reform, particularly the adoption of sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences at both the federal and state levels (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2012; Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2005; Mauer et al., 1999; Bontrager et al., 2013). While these were the same policies that contributed to the increase in the male prison population, gender scholars pointed to their special impact on women’s punitive outcomes (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003). Many studies found that harsher penalties for drug offenses disproportionately penalized women. For instance, Blumstein and Beck (1999) showed that, from 1980 to 1996, drug offenders accounted for a greater portion of the increase in the female state prison population (43%) than for the male state prison population (28%). The proportion of incarcerated women in state prisons convicted of a drug offense also increased significantly throughout this period (Greenfeld & Snell, 2000). In 1986, 12% of the female state prison population was incarcerated for a drug offense; by 1999, this figure had grown to 35.1% (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003). The comparable increase for the male state prison population was 8.4% to 18.7% (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003).
Gender scholars also began to document how sentencing reforms contributed to the growth in women’s incarceration. As many have shown, the sentencing guidelines adopted at both the federal and state level in the late 1980s reflected a shift away from a rehabilitative sentencing model toward a “just deserts” model. Gone were the days when a sentencing judge had the discretion to tailor a sentence to an individual offender. The emphasis shifted to a defendant’s offense type and criminal history. Sentencing reform also targeted broad disparities in sentences among defendants who had committed similar crimes and had similar prior histories—with reform advocates trying to rid sentences of extralegal factors and judges’ biases. Under sentencing guidelines, judges were to consider criminal history and offense type as opposed to offenders’ family ties, employment, or education (Daly & Tonry, 1997). And race and gender were never to be considered as legitimate factors in sentencing (Daly & Tonry, 1997). In addition, from the 1980s on, there was a resurgence in the popularity of mandatory minimum sentence legislation, particularly with regard to federal and state drug-related offenses (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003; Schulhofer, 1993).
All of these sentencing reforms disproportionately affected women, despite their being gender-neutral at face value (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2012; Raeder, 1995; Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2005). Many studies found that women’s sentences became more severe after the implementation of sentencing guidelines (Daly & Tonry, 1997). As judges could no longer take into account family ties, women’s sentences increased (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003). Judges also had less discretion to grant noncustodial sentences on the basis of family ties as a mitigating circumstance, which had a greater impact on mothers because they were more likely the caregivers of children (Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999). Not only were women sentenced more often to custodial sentences, but the time they spent in prison increased—in part because the guidelines often curtailed the use parole (Raeder, 1995). Indeed, these developments led some to conclude that the move toward treating women like men had created a “vengeful equity” (Chesney-Lind, 2006). Equalization in the justice system meant that women were to be treated like men (not the reverse)—and that sentencing and correctional standards developed for male offenders would be applied to women. For women, this partly meant the masculinization of penal practices. Women were “no longer being accorded the benefits, however dubious, of the chivalry that had characterized the reformatory movement” (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2012, p. 127).
As Daly and Tonry (1997) noted early on, this was not intentional. Women were mostly absent in debates about sentencing reform: “[t]hroughout the debates on sentencing reform, the presumptive sentencing subject was male: women and gender differences were not featured” (Daly & Tonry, 1997, p. 204). Sentences were derived using average sentences for men, or for both women and men, but not women’s sentences alone. Policymakers also chose to pursue a single-track sentencing system that would likely result in women being punished like men—instead of preserving a special track for women that allowed them more leniency. Clearly, many scholars were critical of this change, pointing to how gender-neutral policies were not tailored to women’s needs (Chesney-Lind, 1991; Chesney-Lind & Pollock, 1995; Daly, 1995; Raeder, 1995). For instance, in commenting on the federal sentencing guidelines Raeder (1995) claimed that “the current male-based sentencing model defies any attempt to develop a rational sentencing policy for nonviolent female offenders, many of whom care for young children and . . . [who] have been shoehorned into a punitive pro-prison model for sentencing males who are assumed to be violent and/or major drug dealers” (p. 157).
Other scholars, however, disagreed with the “equality with a vengeance” characterization, maintaining that women continued to be treated more leniently in the criminal justice system. They argued that although federal guidelines constrained judicial discretion, the discretion that remained was used to mitigate women’s sentences—by granting downward departures from the guidelines or by giving women sentences at the lower end of the applicable range (Nagel & Johnson, 1994). Koons-Witt (2002), for example, analyzed imprisonment outcomes in Minnesota before and after the implementation of sentencing guidelines and found no gender effects on incarceration decisions. Whatever gender effects did exist were limited to women with children, who continued to benefit from leniency in sentencing after the guidelines were implemented. Yet, a study of men and women convicted of felonies in the mid-1990s in Chicago, Miami, and Kansas City revealed that women were less likely to be given custodial sentences, which led to the conclusion that contemporary sentencing practices were not “gender-neutral,” but actually less harsh for women (Spohn & Beichner, 2000). So here, too, there was debate—one that echoed the severity/leniency debate of early decades.
Gender Responsive Corrections
As women’s rates of incarceration rose sharply in the 1980s and 1990s, scholarly attention turned to what women were experiencing in prison—that is, the practices in women’s corrections. Once again, issues of sameness and difference came to the fore. To what extent should penal institutions take into account differences between men and women? Would a sameness approach benefit female inmates given the legacy of women’s prisons being underserviced and underfunded? Would programs that recognized women’s distinct physical, psychological, and social needs ameliorate women’s experiences in prison and promote reentry? For many, this movement toward parity was met with criticism, resulting in a new approach to women’s confinement: gender-responsive corrections. The term gender-responsive, coined by Bloom, Covington, and Owen in their influential 2003 report (Bloom et al., 2003), is often used interchangeably with other terms, including women-focused, women-centered, gender-sensitive, and gender-specific to characterize certain types of correctional practices.
During the 1980s, the success of several legal challenges to female prisoners’ conditions of confinement evidenced a shift toward parity in correctional practices. Female inmates raised several legal challenges, often on the grounds of equal protection, particularly involving the availability of vocational training and medical care (Chesney Lind & Pollock, 1995). The heightened punitiveness of the period also brought large-scale changes in penal policy that affected female offenders—especially the rejection of the rehabilitative ideal and the turn away from maternalist-oriented women’s prisons (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2005). It seemed as though women’s institutions were becoming more bureaucratic, centralized, and rationalized (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2005). As with sentencing, some scholars were highly critical of this shift, arguing that it also took male offenders as the standard and ignored the specific needs and characteristics of female prisoners (Chesney-Lind & Pollock, 1995).
In 1990, the Canadian government published an influential report articulating a strategy to reform its federal prisons according to “women-centered” principles (Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, 1990). In many ways, the report became the statement piece for advocates of women-centered corrections—lauded for its incorporation of feminist philosophy and inclusion of nongovernmental, voluntary organizations, Aboriginal and minority groups, and formerly incarcerated women on the task force’s committee (Hannah-Moffat, 1995). In 2003, the U.S. National Institute of Corrections followed suit by publishing its own report on the relevance of gender-responsive correctional practices, which argued that these practices would benefit not only women, but also the broader community (Bloom et al., 2003). Among other issues, the report outlined much of what feminist criminologists had been researching for decades: female offenders’ distinctive characteristics, pathways to offending, prison experiences, and reentry challenges. It also suggested guiding principles for implementing a gender-responsive model in corrections (Bloom et al., 2003). The U.S. report was distinct in its emphasis on research. It also helped gender-responsive corrections gain momentum in other countries, particularly the United Kingdom and Australia—with even the United Nations citing the need for gender specificity in its rules on the treatment of female prisoners (United Nations, 2010; Hannah-Moffat, 2010; Bosworth & Fili, 2012).
Over the years, the gender-responsive correctional model has encompassed many different policies and practices. Most generally, it is predicated on the idea that women have distinct needs that warrant differential treatment by penal institutions. Female offenders are more likely to have experienced physical or sexual abuse—more than incarcerated men and women in the general population (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003). Their pathways to crime are also different: incarcerated women are more likely to have histories of substance abuse and are less likely to have been employed (Bloom et al., 2003; Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003). More of them care for dependent children; over a third of incarcerated women have minor children (Bloom et al., 2003). Moreover, women differ from men with regard to the type of offenses they commit. Most women are convicted of drug or property offenses; a much smaller proportion committed violent offenses (Bloom et al., 2003). Drawing on theories by Gilligan and others on the differences in men and women’s psychological and moral development, some have argued that, to be effective, correctional practices must take into account the notion that relationships are centrally important to women and that they are motivated by relational concerns (Bloom et al., 2003). All of these differences were thus used to argue for a distinct approach to the needs of female offenders.
Advocates of gender-responsive corrections also claimed that women faced particular challenges while incarcerated, which penal systems failed to address. The use of risk classification systems, usually based on male inmates, could lead to overclassifying women into higher-risk categories (Bloom et al., 2003; Hardyman & Van Voorhis, 2004). Women who experienced sexual violence found physical searches in prison particularly intrusive and could be more vulnerable to sexual misconduct by prison staff (Bloom et al., 2003). Female inmates often had unique commissary needs, particularly with beauty and sanitary products (Bloom et al., 2003; Bosworth & Fili, 2012). Gender-responsive corrections would take these needs into account, redesigning male-centric penal institutions to more adequately address them and prepare women for life after prison.
Perhaps because it included so many needs, the concept of gender-responsive corrections was met with widespread support. As Hannah-Moffat writes:
Discourse about [gender responsiveness] has spread throughout the international community with surprisingly little resistance or academic debate. Most recent studies have characterised the shift toward [gender responsive] punishment as progress and support continued efforts to modify women’s penal interventions, programs, risk-need assessment and classification instruments, and staffing models. (2010, p. 194)
Yet some expressed deep concerns over this approach—concerns that replicated the sameness/difference debate. Here, too, the worry was that gender-responsive penal policies assumed an essentialized woman—a unitary women’s experience, or at least an experience consistent enough that it could be addressed through institutional programming. Other facets of identity, such as race or social class, and how those facets intersect, would be ignored, and policies would be based on the experiences of white, middle-class women (Goodkind, 2009). For instance, as Bosworth and Fili (2012) argued, women who deviated from gender norms (such as childless women, lesbians, and violent women) could then be classified as high risk. Gender-responsive corrections could also represent women as more deserving of special treatment in ways that disempowered them—by constructing them as less violent, more fragile, and less culpable. The politics of victimhood could reify gender stereotypes while insisting on gender equality. In the process, it could also end up vilifying male prisoners, casting them as less deserving of responsive treatment when, ideally, penal programming should be receptive to both women’s and men’s needs (Bosworth & Fili, 2012). Some critics were skeptical of the optimism with which these reforms were met, questioning if they actually were more effective and whether this new discourse obscured the continuities with older regimes, particularly the disciplinary and repressive aspects of imprisonment (Hannah-Moffat, 1995). Others were uneasy about using sex and gender difference as the basis for claims to improve correctional practices, favoring instead moral arguments, such as dignity, human rights, and a commitment to nondegrading conditions of confinement (Bosworth & Fili, 2012). Again, here is the influence of the sameness/difference debate.
The Gendering of Punishment
For many scholars of gender and punishment, the quandaries raised by women-centered corrections made the scholarly limitations of the focus on women and punishment all too clear. Given the diversity in women’s experiences, gender-responsive programs seemed to overemphasize women’s purported differences from men and thus reified gendered stereotypes (Bosworth & Fili, 2012). Given how the discourse and practices of woman-centered corrections often obscured the overlaps between women’s and men’s experiences, they seemed to obscure the disciplinary power relations that are so central to all prisons (Hannah-Moffat, 2000). These concerns echoed those being raised in larger debates within gender studies and feminist theory—and reflected the broader movement to deconstruct the category of “woman” and to analyze the complex ways it is socially constituted.
As a result, many scholars began to examine what Lisa Brush (2003) has called the “governance of gender”—and the penal state’s role in it. This concept implied two key substantive shifts. First and foremost, it meant conceptualizing the object of investigation not as women per se but as gender relations and categorizations. It meant viewing gender as a series of constructions and relationships produced through penal policies and institutions. It also implied viewing gender as a process—as sets of ideals, expectations, and behaviors used to control and punish those connected to the penal system. From the 2000s on, gender scholars of punishment began to center more and more on these dimensions of gender and on how they were transformed through the experience of punishment.
Second, studying the governance of gender implied a shift in focus from the quantifiable outcomes of criminal justice involvement to the dynamics of penal control. This conception of penality is, of course, bound up with Foucauldian ideas about power, discipline, and constraint. So instead of looking at the effect of penal practices, scholars highlighted how penal programs drew on and reinforced specific gender norms (Haney, 2010; Bosworth & Fili, 2012). They examined penal institutions as practical and discursive entities that shaped offenders’ social conduct—while attempting to reform their state of mind and ways of being.
These conceptual shifts had empirical implications. The work on gender and punishment became less about patterns of arrest, adjudication, sentencing, or prison conditions—and more about the penal processes through which inmates’ needs were defined, interpreted, and managed. And while gender scholars approached these interpretations in many ways, two of the most common were through analyses of the discourses and practices of rehabilitation and of empowerment.
The Gendering of Rehabilitation
A key part of most all analyses of the contemporary penal system is the shift away from the rehabilitative ideal of penal welfarism—and its replacement with a more punitive model of corrections (Garland, 2001; Gottschalk, 2014). While this shift led some gender scholars to conclude that women were being treated more like men (i.e., the equality with a vengeance thesis), it prompted others to interrogate changes in how the penal system conceptualized and practiced rehabilitation. And this analysis led to some important insights into the gendered nature of rehabilitation itself.
One of the best examples of this is Kruttschnitt and Gartner’s (2005) comparative and historical study of two California prisons for women. Focusing on the 1960s and 1990s, they set out to study how the move away from rehabilitation made these prisons less gendered. And, indeed, in many respects it had. As they argued:
The maternalistic philosophy that guided women’s institutions for most of the past century has been systematically dismantled in favor of ostensibly less gender-stereotypic regimes. The domestic orientation, reinforced through cottage-style architecture and therapeutic management, has been gradually replaced in many jurisdictions by industrial-style modular institutions and gender equity in programming [. . .].
(Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2005, p. 2)
Thus, they found that the prevailing notion of rehabilitation was no longer premised on maternalist ideals of domesticity or bifurcated notions of gender difference.
At the same time, this finding did not mean rehabilitation had disappeared. Instead, it had changed in form and focus. Penal facilities were still guided by gendered ideas about what women needed. Kruttschnitt and Gartner (2005) found correctional staff expressing longstanding beliefs about women’s criminality as being less rational—and of women as “generally inadequate, weak, emotionally needy, and dysfunctional” (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2005, p. 81). Yet, these were also attributes the staff thought had to change, which they did largely by guiding women to take more control over that process of change. As Kruttschnitt and Gartner (2005) put it, contemporary penal institutions are “regimes that view women offenders as agents responsible for their own rehabilitation” (p. 2). So while prisons continued to try and shape female offenders’ conduct and states of mind—which are so central to rehabilitative practice—they did so in more individualizing ways that emphasized self-control and self-management. Importantly, this is precisely how female inmates seemed to experience carceral control: they were much less inclined to develop relationships with other women or correctional staff. And they remained much less trusting of one another, doing their time more withdrawn and detached from others (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2005).
In this way, Kruttschnitt and Gartner’s work suggests a rethinking of the common account of how rehabilitative penal models were rejected and replaced by a new penology based on control and punishment. For them, it is not either/or—not rehabilitation or punishment. Instead, there was a merging of the two. In both, gender remained as an organizing strategy for penal practices, although just not in the same way.
These arguments about the gender politics of rehabilitation also characterize Jill McCorkel’s work. Indeed, in her early work McCorkel (2003) came up with one of the most useful formulations of the gendering of rehabilitation—claiming that the penal system set out not to rehabilitate women but to habilitate them. Since women’s disorders were thought to be so deep as to permeate their very being, they could not be rehabilitated. Their self was not healthy or whole to begin with. So what they needed was habilitation, or the creation of a self.
In her book, Breaking Women, McCorkel (2013) traced exactly how this was done. In perhaps one of the most detailed analyses of the gendered practices of punishment, McCorkel studied a therapeutic program within a women’s prison for inmates with substance abuse issues. Like Kruttschnitt and Gartner, she revealed the merging of penal models—and how therapeutic corrections were actually highly punitive. Their practices were highly intrusive as women were under constant surveillance by the staff and their peers, who were actively encouraged to report even the most minor rule violation to staff. They also went to great lengths to reshape participants’ sense of self through punitive practices of confrontation that attempted to break women down in an attempt to rebuild them. In the process, women were taught that their diseased selves were responsible for everything from their addictions to their sexual practices to their problematic mothering. They were thus to be held responsible for those addictions and, more broadly, for all of the hardships in their lives—a technique of rule that McCorkel calls “responsibilization.”
While rehabilitation through responsibilization occurred across penal environments, McCorkel argued that gender remained highly relevant. The overall goal might have been the control of unruly populations, but the actual carceral techniques used with men and women were distinct. This was largely because the risks men and women were believed to pose were different: men were viewed as rational actors and feared because of their capacity for violence, so their carceral control focused on the curtailment of their bodies. Yet female offenders continued to be viewed as irrational actors—and their criminality was seen as a symptom of their diseased, disordered self. So their carceral control centered on the management of their selves and identities. Unlike the earlier era when rehabilitation meant reform through moral respectability and domesticity, in the contemporary era of mass incarceration, McCorkel showed how it implied ongoing self-management and self-regulation—a shift that, not by chance, coincided with the broader change in the racial makeup of the female prison population and the racialization of the female offender.
Later work further examined gender differences in the conceptualization of offender subjectivities and how this shaped the gendering of rehabilitation practices. In a comparative study of men and women on parole and probation, Wyse uncovered gendered beliefs about pathways to criminality and responsibilization strategies (2013). Officers deemed male offenders’ selves as stunted and underdeveloped, while female offenders’ selves were taken to be amorphous and lacking in boundaries (Wyse, 2013). As such, men were encouraged to take on economic roles and responsibilities, whereas women were steered toward solidifying boundaries, exercising control over their emotions, and were discouraged from forming relationships (Wyse, 2013).
Similarly, McKim’s (2008) work on women in court-mandated drug treatment programs also shows how responsibilization techniques and beliefs about what constitutes an autonomous self are gendered. The programs she studied did not urge women to comply with an economic model of the rational, responsible, emotionally controlled self. Rather, their rehabilitative strategies focused on creating an introspective, emotional, therapeutic self that is highly individuated. Staff viewed some economic and familial responsibilities as undermining the more important and immediate objective of becoming therapeutically self-governed, thus hindering the subjects’ path to empowerment. McKim shows how these beliefs were inconsistent with court notions of a responsible self, with the latter centering on work, parenting, and education.
The Gendering of Empowerment
In addition to analyzing the gendered underpinnings of rehabilitation, gender scholars have unearthed how penal projects targeted at women were often cloaked in empowerment talk. That is, attempts to instill self-control, self-reliance, and self-regulation were frequently portrayed as in women’s best interest, even as transformative acts of equality. Never mind that they were used by penal officers in institutions of control and confinement—they were still represented as empowerment projects.
Perhaps the best example of how empowerment discourse was used as a technique of penal control is Hannah-Moffat’s (1995, 2000, 2001) work on the Canadian penal system. She reveals how penal officials drew on a language of empowerment when constructing women-centered prisons. They gestured to feminist ideals when they pushed for therapeutic programs. They used a “feminized social control talk” as they insisted on practices of self-governance (Hannah-Moffat, 1995, p. 160). In addition, they adopted a language of gender equity to justify their focus on making women responsible for their actions (Hannah-Moffat, 2000). Hannah-Moffat points out how the concept of empowerment, a concept central to certain feminist analyses, is highly flexible and has been used by Canadian correctional agencies as a tool to promote the self-governance of women.
Of course, correctional agencies selectively appropriated feminist empowerment talk. Since this is such a diverse, multifaceted, and flexible discourse, it was possible for the Canadian penal system to appropriate those aspects most consistent with its larger agenda. So the parts that acknowledged the systemic barriers to a woman’s empowerment were ignored, as were those parts that recognized the constraints on women’s ability to act autonomously on their own behalf. Instead, this discourse was interpreted to define women’s “empowerment” as being consistent with the objectives of the state. It was a notion of empowerment that stressed women’s need to take responsibility for themselves and to remain accountable for their actions. In this way, Hannah-Moffat notes the irony here: how empowerment was actually incompatible with penal institutions since they were both premised on limiting inmates’ autonomy and capacity to make choices (Hannah-Moffat, 2000). Yet this was part of its appeal in a punitive setting. As Hannah-Moffat writes: “part of the appeal of empowerment is its ability to informally and subtly govern marginalized populations in a way that encourages them to participate in their own reformation, while simultaneously appearing to be a critical alternative” (2000, p. 520). Again, this is partly what makes empowerment discourse so gendered—with “woman-centered” models justifying their punitive and intrusive practices in ways that male-centered models did not even attempt.
While Haney’s research (2010) is not directly about empowerment talk, she also explored the problems that arise with penal practices cloaked in promises of empowerment. In her work, both the form and content of penal institutions were said to be empowering. Like the programs Hannah-Moffat studied, Haney’s institutions grew out of progressive, feminist interventions to make punishment more responsive to women’s needs—they were facilities in the California Prisoner Mother Program (CPMP) which housed women with their children. But unlike Hannah-Moffat’s facilities, Haney’s were community-based, located outside the boundaries of traditional correctional facilities. For many, this alternative form of corrections was itself promising since it removed women from traditional penal settings thought to be repressive and punitive. Yet, Haney problematized this assumption, arguing that community-based alternatives should not be uncritically embraced. In fact, her analysis showed how perpetual uncertainty, staff turnovers, and funding crises bred institutional conflicts that limited just how much of an “alternative” to incarceration these facilities could be.
Central to Haney’s analysis was how the therapeutic model used in the CPMP facility she observed ended up constructing women’s needs in ways that actually disempowered them. On the one hand, they did this by subjecting women to near-constant surveillance. As part of their therapeutic treatment, female offenders had to expose publicly their innermost thoughts and weaknesses. Women were not permitted to have any personal boundaries or privacy. They were always watched for lapses in conduct, by both the staff and their fellow inmates. In this way, power relations between the staff and incarcerated women were just as asymmetrical as in traditional prisons. The staff, for example, had the power to initiate a lockdown of the facility, essentially confining the inmates to the facility for extended periods of time. Negative evaluations by the staff could lead to the women being sent to traditional correctional facilities. Yet all of these enactments of power were justified as in the women’s interests—as attempts to empower them.
Haney argues that these claims to empowerment were encompassed by a discourse of desire. She centers on this discourse as a key strategy of governance since it was a main way female inmates were managed, treated, and regulated by the penal system. Through the regulation of inmates’ desires, the penal system sought to transform what women should want. Penal practices set out to control a variety of sensory pleasures of taste, smell, sight, and touch—ranging from what women ate and drank to how they clothed themselves to how they changed their appearance. Those same practices also impinged on emotional pleasures and feelings of joy and sadness—from what made women feel “high” to where they turned to feel attachment to how they felt safe. She thus shows how the CPMP staff folded all of these issues into a discourse that made the transformation of desire the centerpiece of women’s empowerment.
Yet, Haney shows that the ultimate effect of this discourse of desire was far from empowering. Instead, it was deeply individualizing—it left unacknowledged the structural inequalities women faced as well as their concerns about their education, employment, and housing upon their release. The staff encouraged women to turn those concerns inward, thus individualizing the problem instead of acknowledging their social basis. The discourse of desire was also infantilizing: Women were thought to be unable to distinguish between healthy, positive needs and negative, self-destructive wants. And so the discourse was also depoliticizing: Haney reveals all the ways women were taught they were not entitled to state benefits or assistance. They were instructed to trace all setbacks they experienced to themselves, which made them unable to band together to claim rights and depoliticized their claims. So despite their claims to empowerment, this “alternative” penal institution left them “without an effective way to counter the broader politics of disentitlement; they had no framework to challenge the metamorphosis of societal problems into problems of individual will, vice, and desire” (Haney, 2010, p. 221).
Together, all of this research on rehabilitation and empowerment shifted the focus from gender differentials in outcomes to the gendered dynamics of penal control. By conceptualizing gender as a process that is both transformed and harnessed in penal institutions, this work revealed how gender remained an important governing strategy in the era of hyperincarceration—and yet highly flexible in penal settings of social control. At the same time, this research also had limitations. Far too often, it seemed divorced from the politics of penal reform—effective at critiquing penal practices, but less effective at coming up with policy reforms. Also, while the scholarly focus moved from women to gender, the empirical object remained female offenders: there were only a handful of studies on male offenders and the construction of masculinity. Connected to this, while this research usually gave a nod to issues of race and class, it rarely looked at the construction of gender as occurring along with the constitution of race, class, and sexuality—and how they all became implicated in the process of punishment.
Toward an Intersectional Approach to Punishment
Anyone who has spent even a few minutes in a penal institution cannot help but be struck by the institution’s concentration of social disadvantage. The intersections of disadvantage are striking and inscribed on prisoners’ bodies: from race to class to gender to sexuality. Yet, for some reason, few scholars of punishment have theorized those intersections. It is almost as if they are taken for granted; scholars are so used to facing brown bodies marked by hegemonic masculinity and heterosexuality that such intersectionality becomes unexceptional. Yet once we begin to conceptualize gender as interactive and constructed, and the penal system as engaged in regulating different forms of social conduct, it behooves us to take those intersections seriously—and to reveal the ways the social categories of gender, race, class, and sexuality are constructed and experienced together in the process of punishment.
As Potter (2015) has argued in her groundbreaking work, studies of crime and punishment have long marginalized intersectional approaches. Despite the fact that intersectionality itself came into recognition from the work of critical legal scholars of race and gender, like Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) and Beth Richie (1995), it often fell on deaf ears when it reached criminology and penology. Potter suggests that this resistance has something to do with the preoccupations of these fields—and their preference for grand theories of crime and punishment that seem to transcend categories of race, class, and gender, as well as their privileging of quantification (particularly in criminology), which can be an obstacle to intersectional analysis. In this way, Potter argues that decompartmentalizing race, class, and gender could disrupt common understandings of criminalization and punishment.
Just such a disruption seems to be underway across these subfields. Indeed, in her book, Potter (2015) traces many of the ways intersectionality has started to surface in criminology, particularly in the areas of violence and victimization (Sokoloff, 2005; Miller, 2008; Richie, 2012). In studies of punishment, intersectional analyses have not been quite as extensive, although they have made inroads in a few noteworthy areas: from studies of the intersection of racialization, masculinity, and punishment to work on the sexual politics of prison to research on the institutional intersections of mass incarceration. We conclude by noting these new directions—and the promising issues they raise for the field.
One of the best examples of scholarship on the intersection of race and gender is Dorothy Roberts’s (1997) iconic and influential Killing the Black Body. In this work, Roberts examines the criminalization of black women’s reproduction, linking it to the historical devaluing of black motherhood and disregard for black women’s autonomy. Roberts describes how the media fomented a sense of fear and crisis surrounding babies born with crack addictions, particularly those of black women. In the 1980s, prosecutors sought to expand the meaning of child abuse and drug-distribution laws to criminalize women who used drugs during pregnancy. Roberts argues that, although a panoply of behaviors could fall under these laws, prosecutors overwhelmingly targeted indigent black women for fetal abuse. This was true for various reasons: black women experience greater state surveillance, while health care practitioners exhibit racial biases and reported black women more frequently. This racialization led to a focus on crack instead of other drugs, substances, and behaviors that were also linked to fetal harm.
A more recent example of intersectional analysis is McKim’s (2014) comparative ethnography of two gender-sensitive drug treatment programs. McKim shows how addiction and addiction treatment are conceptualized through the lenses of gender, race, and class. She highlights the differences in treatment strategies employed by a state-funded program serving mostly court-mandated offenders, with an overwhelmingly African American and Latina clientele, and those used by a private-pay center, with predominantly working and middle-class clients. The state program tended to view its clients as more deviant, as in need of more comprehensive resocialization as a way of reforming these women’s weak selves. In the private-pay program, addiction was conceptualized more narrowly as substance abuse and was less clearly tied to the deep reform of women’s selves.
In terms of new directions, the scholarly move toward intersectionality has also opened the door for the study of men and masculinity. With the exception of a bit of work in the early 1990s on masculinity and crime (Messerschmidt, 1993; Newburn & Stanko, 1994), studies of punishment rarely dealt with men as men—leading to what Britton (2000) referred to as a “screaming silence” (p. 73) on men and masculinity. This is especially peculiar since expressions of masculinity are everywhere in how we punish—as well as in the responses elicited by that punishment (Rhodes, 2004). As Bosworth and Kaufman (2012) hypothesize, this silence may have something to do with how masculinity is a paradoxical resource for men in prison: it is at once something they must demonstrate to survive and something prison authorities hold in check to bolster their own power and control.
Whatever the particular reason for the silence, there are signs that it is changing as male inmates are increasingly being studied as men. In an early collection of essays, Sabo, Kupers, and London (2001) show all the ways that prisonization involves the imposition and policing of hypermasculinity—and how the penal system is designed to validate and reproduce masculine status in the most transgressive ways. More recently, scholars have begun to examine the intersection of masculinization and criminalization. For instance, Contreras (2013) has analyzed the complex interplay of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and history in the lives of Dominican youth in the South Bronx—and how racially marked conceptions of masculinity pushed young men into the unsanctioned violence that made them successful in the drug trade and targets of penal control. Similarly, Victor Rios’s (2011) work exposed the ongoing processes of criminalization and social control targeted at poor, young men of color. He also unearthed the concrete ways that “hypermasculinity” is mandated and produced, forcing many Latino and African American boys to engage in crime to prove their manhood. And, more directly embedded in the criminal justice system, John Halushka (2016) has revealed how male offenders are made and remade into “work-ready” men and how this remaking is done in gender, race, and class terms. Together, all of this scholarship is on the forefront of research on gender and punishment. The field needs much more of it—analyses that document how men’s regulation by the criminal justice system is gendered and how this occurs in different kinds of penal settings.
Alongside of this work on masculinity, scholars of punishment have begun to address the sexual politics of incarceration more directly. This has also been an area of silence, despite everything we know about the importance of sexuality in the experience of penal control (Holmberg, 2001). Although sexuality did emerge in some research on gender—for instance, both McCorkel and Haney noted how women’s sexuality were elements of penal institutions’ discourses of rehabilitation and desire respectively—sexuality was not itself analyzed as a central form of control that interacted with gender, race, and class. Yet, it is increasingly emerging as the focus of analysis (Peterson & Panfil, 2014). As with studies of men and masculinity, much of this new work examines processes that bring people into the criminal justice system and the victimization they then encounter. So there are several recent studies of the criminalization of queer youth and the distinct forms of social control experienced by transgender men and women (Woods, 2014a, 2014b; Sumner & Jenness, 2014; Sumner et al., 2014). Less common are studies of the sexualization of penal control and prison practices. One notable exception is Dolovich’s (2012) work on Los Angeles county jails, a unique analysis of a unique unit that houses gay and transgender inmates. In this work, Dolovich reveals how the unit remains free of violent gangs, sexual assault, and the imperative to perform hypermasculinity. Dolovich then uses this anomaly to reflect on the concrete ways penal dehumanization becomes embedded in prison structures and their corresponding sexual cultures.
Finally, while most intersectional work in crime and punishment looks at the cross-cutting identities of those brought into the system, there are also recent analyses of how systems of control are themselves intersectional. This is a very different understanding of intersectionality—one in which scholars argue for an intersectionality that examines how institutions surrounding the penal system connect to it, work in unison with it, and spill over onto it. Many of these studies look at community intersections: from research on the school-to-prison pipeline to the many collateral consequences of incarceration (Clear, 2007; Lara-Millan, 2014). They also show how the interlocking processes of governance actually function. To some extent, this is what Rios (2011) does in his ethnographic work, examining how scholars, families, the police, and prisons work together to criminalize young men of color. This is also what Nikki Jones (2009) does in her work on how African American girls manage the transgressions and violence they encounter at home, at school, on street, and in state programs—all the while trying to manage the intersecting sets of institutional expectations for them. And it is what Comfort (2008) revealed in her work on the secondary prisonization women experience when their loved ones do time—when the institutions of family and prison become so in sync that they start to rely on each other for social control and containment.
In this way, all of these studies of different forms of intersectionality raise important insights into how, who, and why we punish in the contemporary United States. Thus, more research is clearly needed on intersectionality. Of course, this does not mean that research on women/punishment and gender/punishment does not continue to teach us about the workings of the penal policies and practices—they clearly do, and scholars should continue pursuing those lines of inquiry. But the more those inquiries are done with an understanding of the interlocking and interconnected nature of social institutions and social categories, the more their findings will speak to the realities of the contemporary penal system and to the experiences of those caught up in them.
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