In Prison, Discipline Comes Down Hardest On Women

NPR

By Joseph Shapiro, Jessica Pupovac, and Kari Lydersen

When Monica Cosby, Tyteanna Williams and Celia Colon talk about the years they spent as inmates at women’s prisons in Illinois, their stories often turn to the times they would be disciplined for what seemed like small, even absurd things.

Cosby was playing Scrabble in her cell once when a guard asked what she was doing. She responded sarcastically: “What does it look like I’m doing?” He wrote her up for “contraband” (the Scrabble set) and for “insolence.”

Williams got written up once when her cellmate, who had diabetes, passed out and Williams cursed at the officer she thought was too slow to help.

Colon got a disciplinary ticket for “reckless eye-balling.” She had made a face when a corrections officer gave her an order. She says she ended up in solitary confinement as a result.

“You could get a ticket for anything,” Colon said.

Especially, it turns out, if you’re a woman.

Across the country, women in prison are disciplined at higher rates than men — often two to three times more often, and sometimes more — for smaller infractions of prison rules.

That is the finding of an investigation by NPR and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. We collected data from women’s and men’s prisons, visited five women’s prisons around the country, and interviewed current and former prisoners along with past and present wardens and prison officials. We also spoke with academics and other experts.

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