Women in prison: An issue of blaming the individual for social problems

Experiences of interpersonal violence and criminal legal control: a mixed method analysis

From SAGE Open

Researchers have long claimed that physical abuse and marginalization lead to criminal activity; however, women in prison are taught to overlook socioeconomic issues and blame only themselves for their behaviour.  This study confirms that there is a real connection between the type of abuse experienced by women, marginalization, and whether or not they will turn to drugs and criminal activity to cope with their experiences. The authors contend current psychiatric and popular discourse that portrays female incarceration as the result of poor choices and bad behavior “rather than identifying structural conditions that lead to imprisonment—including changes in laws, racist and sexist legislation, poverty, lack of resources and jobs, and social vulnerability over the course of one’s life.”  This study used surveys and interviews with incarcerated or formerly imprisoned women. Having few or no options because of their marginalized socioeconomic positions, entrenched racial inequality, and repeated episodes of violence, respondents indicated that criminalized activities became survival mechanisms, which led to incarceration. The authors point to institutional change and support systems for victims of abuse as a way to prevent female criminal activity.



Incarcerated women are substantially more likely to have experienced interpersonal violence than are women in the general population. Some scholars argue that increased likelihoods of committing crime among survivors of violence explain this association. However, previous research fails to control for measures of social vulnerability. Thus, the relationship between experiencing interpersonal violence and experiencing imprisonment may not be a causal one. To examine the links between social vulnerability, experiences of interpersonal violence, and experiences of incarceration, the authors analyze both quantitative and qualitative data. The authors’ findings suggest that social vulnerability—especially being Black, having a parent who has been incarcerated, and being unemployed at the time of the arrest—does mediate the relationship between experiencing violence, using drugs, and believing that interpersonal violence contributed to one’s imprisonment. However, even when controlling for social vulnerability, real effects of experiences of violence on both women’s drug use and their understandings of the causes of their imprisonment remain.

Read this research for free

Article details
Schlesinger, T., & Lawston, J. (2011). Experiences of Interpersonal Violence and Criminal Legal Control: A Mixed Method Analysis SAGE Open, 1 (2) DOI: 10.1177/2158244011419523

This entry was posted in Criminology & Criminal Justice, Interpersonal/Domestic Violence, SAGE Insight and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.