University Study Finds Women Prison Inmates More Likely Than Men to Be Punished for Minor Infractions

A new study led by Melinda Tasca, an associate professor in the department of criminal justice and security studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, reveals a gender disparity in prison infractions that disproportionately affects women.

The study analyzed the disciplinary infraction records of more than 20,000 males and females in a large western state prison, who were released between 2010 and 2013. Defiance acts are the most minor of rule violations and are often verbal in nature, including disrespect, being disruptive. or disobeying an order. Defiance infractions can also come as the result of committing unallowed consensual contact, unauthorized altering of one’s appearance, or failing to adhere to hygiene requirements.

The study showed that women were 40 percent more likely to receive a defiance infraction and accrue them at a greater rate than males. The findings also demonstrated that women’s greater likelihood and rate of defiance infractions is unique when compared to other types of disciplinary infractions men obtain, which women were either less likely to receive or receive at a similar likelihood and rate.

“These findings suggest that a nationwide review and reform of disciplinary policies and practices is needed,” Dr. Tasca said. “A focus should be placed on improving the dialogue between staff and women to avoid minor tickets when reasonable and to improve understanding of the needs and histories of women in prison, which can manifest in ways that affect their ability to cope and adapt to prison life.”

Dr. Tasca joined the faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso in 2020 after teaching for several years at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. She holds bachelor’s, master’s, and dotoral degrees in criminology and criminal justice, all from Arizona State University.

The full study, “Assessing Gender Differences in Prison Rule Enforcement: A Focus on Defiance,” was published on the website of the journal Justice Quarterly. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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