and Social Control
Collective piece by staff, from Kinesis, published by the Vancouver
Commission on the Status of Women
judicial/prison system most often comes up in feminist discussion in
deciding how to deal with men who commit crimes against women. The
urgency of ending violence against us has compelled women to implicitly
support this system.
in doing this, we cut ourselves off from the struggles of women who are
imprisoned. We also lose sight of our long-term goal of a society not
based in coercion; a goal that requires the dismantling of the prison
system. We need to remember how women's issues and prison issues are
part of the same struggle.
issues are important for feminists, both because individual women are
being oppressed by prison and, in a wider context, because the
judicial/prison system exists to support the larger power structure that
oppresses us all.
prison are fighting to maintain a sense of self within a system that
isolates and degrades; one which attempts to teach submission to
authority through the constant exercising of power, in both serious and
petty ways, over prisoners. What is generated is not obedience but
anger, and since a prisoner risks punishment such as being sent to
segregation if she directs her anger at the system that's hurting her,
that anger often gets directed inward or at other prisoners.
the most brutal methods of social control are directed at a society's
most oppressed groups, the women most likely to be sent to jail [and
prison] are poor and/or women of color. In North America a very high
proportion are Native. That the great majority of prisoners are in for
crimes against property shows the system's role in maintaining the
a type of violence which enforces a state's power over its citizens, in
the same way that rape and battering enforce the power of men over
this kind of power by coercion is antithetical to feminism we need to
make prison abolition part of our feminist analysis.
implication of this is that we have to reevaluate the strategy of trying
to have abusive men put in prison. For now, it's one of the only
strategies available to protect women and children from particularly
violent men. What other approach could be used remains a difficult
question. However, this doesn't have to stop us from opposing the prison
system as a whole; we can recognize that if we use the system to convict
violent men, it is an unsatisfactory and short term solution.
have to abandon is trying to inject feminist values into an essentially
patriarchal system. We've seen how our demands, even when clearly
articulated, are twisted and used in the state's interests in our recent
implicitly supported the system by trying to change it using its own
terms. Since the severity of the penalty for an action is supposed to
express society's amount of disapproval for that action, feminists have
pushed for stronger penalties for crimes against women as a way of
increasing the expressed disapproval for these crimes. This doesn't work
for several reasons.
the justice system is controlled through government by the economic
elite. It therefore supports that elite's interests (retaining power)
and will continue to reflect their values and not those of feminists.
example of these values is a recent sentencing by Supreme Court Judge
Samuel Toy. Finding a B.C. Man guilty of the rape and murder of a
teenage woman, he sentenced him to fifteen years to be served
concurrently with the sentence he had already received for the rape and
murder of a second teenager. This same judge three years ago imposed a
life sentence on political activist Ann Hansen for her part in actions
with the Wimmin's Fire Brigade and Direct Action.
raises another point. When we support the state's imprisonment of a
rapist, we support the state's right to imprison, period. And this is
used against us when we challenge the system.
last decade or so, women in prison have also faced the backlash against
feminism. Previously, the court held women less responsible for our
actions than it did men and thus women received shorter sentences. But
this is one of the few places where disparity between women and men
decreased quickly. One of the state's first responses to our demands for
equal legal rights has been to hand out longer sentences to women.
problem is the whole approach of responding to someone's violent or
irresponsible behavior with various degrees of punishment. It implies
that revenge is the most important response to a wrong-doing, rather
than supporting the victim or trying to prevent the behavior from
happening again. It also suggests that people have to be coerced to
must participate in the search for alternate ways of dealing with those
who oppress. With the awareness that the judicial/prison system is not
our ally in the long run, we'll be more reluctant to ask one part of the
patriarchy to protect us from other parts.
task is to learn about and support the struggles of prisoners. Women
inside fight back and resist all the time. And although there are few
methods of resistance open to prisoners some of them are: talking back
to guards, breaking rules, destroying prison property participating in
sit-ins, occupations, work or hunger strikes, and exposing brutality
through the media and through lawsuits.
from the outside is a crucial factor in the success of prisoners'
campaigns. The knowledge that people outside care about what's happening
contributes to prisoners' strength and makes prison administrators
respond much more quickly to demands.
express our support for particular campaigns against unfair court
decisions or treatment of prisoners through letter writing, protest
phone calls [and faxes], demonstrations and education campaigns in our
communities. We can also work for reforms of the prison system, keeping
in mind that this is an interim measure to abolishing prisons. This
includes lobbying governments to fund more prison programs with as many
options available to female as male prisoners and training in a variety
ongoing basis, we need to strengthen connections with our sisters
inside. We must recognize women prisoners' struggles as an essential
part of our movement. We can do this by:
visiting women in prison when possible; meeting with individual women
who want visits, organizing informational or skill-sharing workshops,
musicians can play gigs at prisons and so on.
to women prisoners who request letters of support or correspondence.
our resources; sending money to defense funds and prisoner support or
action groups, donating books, musical instruments, art supplies to
information; sending periodicals free to prisoners, soliciting
articles from prisoners and providing material support to prisoner
Reproduction of this material constitutes a 'fair use'
of copyrighted material as provided for in section 107
of the U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title
17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed
without profit for research and educational purposes.