The Bright Side of Prison

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“Women in Prison: A Comparative
Assessment” by Heather Heitfield and Rita J. Simon, in
class="text31">Gender Issues (Winter
2002), Transaction Periodicals Consortium, Rutgers University, 35 Berrue
Circle, Piscataway, N.J. 08854–8042.


Globalization has been a good thing for most women
around the world, and one piece of evidence for that proposition, oddly
enough, is that more of them are in jail than ever before.


It makes sense, say Heitfield and Simon, a graduate
student and professor, respectively, at American University. Globalization
produces economic and social progress, which allows more women to
“assume the positions of authority and power that have traditionally
been held by men.” That also means “increased exposure to
opportunities to commit workplace and property crimes such as larceny,
fraud, embezzlement and forgery.” Apparently, women have been seizing
those opportunities.


In their survey of 26 countries, Heitfield and Simon
find that Thailand tops the list of dubious honor. Women make up 18 percent
of the prison population there. Next come Argentina, the Netherlands, and
the United States, all at levels slightly above eight percent. (There were
about 160,000 women behind bars in the United States in 1998.) At the
bottom of the scale are Israel, Pakistan, and Nigeria, where women
constitute two percent or less of the prison population.


Feeding these and other data into a computer, the
authors looked for correlations. They found that incarceration rates were
pretty closely linked with levels of female education and literacy. More
education generally means more women in prison. So does a higher rate of
economic growth. Yet, surprisingly, the authors uncovered no meaningful
connection between jail time and women’s participation in the work
force or other labor-related indicators. They say their findings point to a
need for new prisons and for new policies for dealing with inmates who,
among other things, bear and raise children.


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