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

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

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Winner of the 2014 Division of Women and Crime Distinguished Scholar Award presented by the American Society of Criminology

Finalist for the 2013 C. Wright Mills Book Award presented by the Society for the Study of Social Problems

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. As

a result, women's prisons in the US have suffered perhaps the most drastically

from the overcrowding and recurrent budget crises that have plagued the penal

system since harsher drugs laws came into effect. In Breaking 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.


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 were created as a way to enact stricter

punishments on female drug offenders while remaining sensitive to their

perceived feminine needs for treatment, yet they instead 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 Women foregrounds 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. McCorkel is Associate Professor of Sociology at Villanova University. Her work has appeared in several leading journals, including Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, and Contexts.

More books by Jill A. McCorkel

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