Judging Societies by Women’s Prisons | Emily Salisbury | TEDxWashingtonCorrectionsCenterforWomen

Judging Societies by Women’s Prisons | Emily Salisbury | TEDxWashingtonCorrectionsCenterforWomen


Translator: Ellen Maloney
Reviewer: Denise RQ “The degree of civilization in a society
can be judged by entering its prisons.” This famous quote
by Dostoyevsky reminds us that to truly understand
the progression of humanity, we should open our eyes
to see how we treat some of the most unsympathetic
characters in our world. How we choose to control, house,
supervise, and treat inmates says a tremendous amount
about us as a society. While I sincerely agree with this idea, I personally think
it doesn’t go far enough. Some inmates are more vulnerable
than others, and more marginalized. And because we live in a world that implicitly favors
some groups over others; majorities over minorities
masculinities over femininities, abilities over disabilities, in order to know
the progression of humanity, we shouldn’t enter just any prison; we should enter a women’s prison. Although women make up only about 7% of the total incarcerated population
in the United States, it’s precisely for this reason that we should focus
on how they are treated, because all too often,
they are considered an after-thought, if thought of at all,
among correctional systems. But here’s why we need
to start thinking about them: when we start with women in mind,
we begin to see that, on the whole, they are not nearly as dangerous
and violent as men. Their crimes are primarily driven
by economic and addiction factors, and usually do not include
physical violence against others. This, of course, doesn’t mean
that women aren’t capable of violence, but what it does mean is that it takes
more provocation, more instigation, for women to become violent. When they do, it’s oftentimes in the context
of a relationship, characterized by intimate partner
abuse and victimization, and done in acts of self-defense. Yet, when women come
to us in prison settings, we oftentimes consider them
just as dangerous as men. In some instances, we think correctional staff,
honestly and understandably, are trained to see
every inmate the same way. They are trained to see
every inmate exactly the same way. An inmate is an inmate is an inmate,
no matter what they did or who they are. On the surface, this kind
of custody approach seems to make sense; if we treat every inmate the same way, then we will never literally
be caught off-guard. But one of the things
I want to share with you today is that when we have the same policies and procedures
for women as we do for men, oftentimes there are problems that come up
that are associated with this. What I’m going to share with you
in the next couple of slides are a little bit more data, but don’t freak out. I mean, I am a professor, there’s going
to be some data in this presentation, but the rest of the talk
isn’t all data, I promise, we’ll get through it together. One of the things
that I wanted to share with you is this idea and this notion
of custody classification. This graph shows us
– shows correctional scholars – what it looks like
when a custody classification tool is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, if it’s working
for the intended population that it’s supposed to be working with. In this case, it’s with inmates. This graph are basically ideal data; they’re hypothetical data,
they’re made up data. what we’d want to see
happen along the way if a custody classification tool
is actually working. If we take a look at this, we see that there’s a smaller proportion
of minimum custody inmates who are acting out
behaviorally over time. A custody classification tool,
essentially, is a behavioral prediction. Every inmate has to be given
a custody classification tool, or a custody classification
before they enter that institution, because we have to make
really tough decisions about who might be a problem
inside institutions. Again, these are the ideal data
that you’d want to see. The fact that you see
a nice stair-step effect, and that it’s working equally well
for women as it is for men. The reality in most states,
and most jurisdictions looks something more like this; what we call “over-classification”. So let’s take a minute to look
and see what’s happening here, in this slide, and in these data. If you just look at the men,
it looks like it’s working, right? You see a nice stair-step effect, where there’s a smaller proportion
of minimum custody inmates who are acting out over a period of time,
meaning after about a year, they have fewer misconducts over time, in comparison to the medium
and maximum custody inmates. If you look at the women, it also looks like it’s kind of working. You see that kind
of nice stair-step effect, but the problem, and it’s a big problem,
and one that you wouldn’t otherwise know if you didn’t separate
out the data by gender, is that the maximum custody women,
behaviorally, look more like the medium custody men. And the medium custody women,
look more like the minimum custody men. For the attorneys, judges,
lawyers in the room; you know this is a massive legal problem. These are not hypothetical data; these data do come from a state
which will remain unnamed, because it’s a massive lawsuit
waiting to happen. When we have results like this,
we start to realise that we are no longer keeping women in the least restrictive conditions,
in the least restrictive environments. We have a mandate, a legal mandate, governed by associations like the United Nations,
and the American Bar Association that mandate we have the least restrictive environments
for inmates based on their behaviour. This is a problem when we have
the same custody classification tool used for women, assuming
they’re just as dangerous as men. When we start with women in mind, we also begin to see
that they are the ones who will be returning
to children upon their release. They are the ones
who will be taking care of the kids when they return to communities. The reality is that when we send
a man to prison for his crimes, it’s usually the mother who’s taking care
of any kids who are left behind. When we send a woman
to prison for her crimes, the unfortunate reality
is that it’s not usually the father who’s taking care of any kids. Usually, more often than not, her children
will end up in the foster care system, or with a family member if she’s lucky, and if she has that kind
of self-support and social support. Many women do not have
that kind of social support. Fortunately, there are
evidence-based programs that we can put in place
inside institutions that can help teach women
how to adequately parent their kids when they come back to them, and how to adequately handle
the parental stress that everybody experiences,
no matter who you are, if you’re raising children. When we start with women in mind, we also begin to face
the uncomfortable realities of trauma and victimization
in their lives. We can almost take universal precautions
with women inside institutions, and assume that every single woman
inside that institution has experienced some form of trauma; be it physical, emotional,
or sexual trauma. This is especially true for women of color
and trans-gendered women. The good news is we know how to create
peaceful environments in institutions for women. But it’s important to remember
that women who have been traumatized experience
the prison environment differently. There are things that we can do to help
create trauma-informed care, even inside prisons. It means eliminating
cross-gender pat-downs, and cross-gender strip-searches. It means training correctional staff
on adequate ways of knowing that their physical presence and the tone
of their voice affects people differently who have experienced
and suffered from trauma. And it means that we, honestly, in the words of a new friend
of mine, Dr Stephanie Evans, that there are blueprints
for dealing with the drama in trauma. You know, I recently sat in
on a panel of women inmates, – I’m actually from the state of Oregon – I wanted to share some of the words
they told me and they told our group, when they were asked to give us
their stories, their narratives, of how they ended up in the system. So these are their words. You can see that there’s a lot of pain
and anguish in these words. It’s important to note that when they were talking
about their stories, they weren’t blaming the system for being part
of the criminal justice system. They weren’t blaming the cards that they were dealt in life
for them being in prison. They weren’t blaming the zip-code
that they were born into. Do you know who they were blaming? Themselves. This is not something
you typically hear as often with male inmates
and with male offenders. They have lots
of self-defeating attitudes. The good news is women
know how to get to places where they can start thinking about more positive attitudes,
and more positive things, including the strengths that they bring to illicit the courage to move forward from trauma and victimization
in their lives. But they can only get
to these kind of strengths if their correctional staff [is] willing, and who are daring themselves
to really care in such a way where they can actually help
women work through this; because women don’t work
through it on their own. I want to end with this notion
and this idea that equality doesn’t mean having the same policies and procedures
for women as we do for men. It means understanding
the different sociological, psychological and cultural differences
that exist across gender. It also means understanding that not every woman’s experience
in this world is the same. A black woman’s experience is not nearly
the same as a white woman’s experience, or a Latina’s experience,
or a native American woman’s experience, or even a trans-gendered
woman’s experience. But as soon as we start recognizing that the differences
are not weaknesses but strengths, the safer we all will be. Thank you. (Applause)

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10 thoughts on “Judging Societies by Women’s Prisons | Emily Salisbury | TEDxWashingtonCorrectionsCenterforWomen”

  • i will assume that this video is satire
    but then again it is TedX so she might really be THIS crazy

  • Let me get this straight… Women serve less time and is far less likely to be incarcerated for doing the same crime (with similar circumstances) as men… and she's asking for even more female privileges?

  • How on earth do we choose masculinity over femininity? Is she batshit insane? Men lose custody and get incarcerated by a woman's word without evidence or due process and are sentenced much harsher than women for the exact same crime. And this professor wants MORE of this because ya know, anything bad a woman did, must be because of a man. 

    So apparently an inmate is an inmate, except the ones with vaginas. All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others right? This is misandry, gynocentrism and bigotry at it's finest. 

  • 1:37  It's generally considered bad form when one's words are contradicted or undermined by one's own slides…

  • 3:20 … Hey, just for giggles, why isn't there a similar graph that includes ALL the genders, and ALL the races, and ALL the religions (and non-religions)?  If we can segregate based on one protected characteristic, then let's segregate on them all, for optimal results.

    If men and women were in the same system, and if the speaker is right about female violence, then you'd get what the speaker seems to want.  More women would end up in minimum, and even the worst women would mostly be in medium.   You don't get to this result by segregation, as the speaker suggests… rather you get to it by integration (as she herself had to do for the slide).  (By the way, if you say we can't house men and women together because of sex or rape, then you need to tell me why this is any different from same-sex sex and rape that already happens).

    5:45 "which will remain unnamed because it's a massive lawsuit waiting to happen".  That's fishy.  Either the speaker simply doesn't care about justice, or the data are NOT in fact a massive lawsuit waiting to happen.

  • 8:20 "Eliminating cross-gender pat downs" etc.   is blatant sexism, not to mention a line of thinking that renders gay and bi people invisible (on both sides of the pat-down)

  • 10:00 Again, this is basic gender stereotyping.  The difference is not between men and women, but rather between many men, and many women.  Some men, and some women, are more similar to the other group.  Would we tolerate this analysis if it were between black and white people, or between immigrants and native-born?  We should likewise reject it here.

    Rather than prejudicially treating people by their gender, people should be treated as the individuals they are.  But when the system is as corrupt and underfunded (and in many cases for-profit) as it is in North America, that isn't going to happen.

  • Dr. Salisbury is a brilliant professor, and I'm extremely proud to have been taught by her. She is awesome and a master of her craft.