Monica Solinas-Saunders – A Celebration of Faculty Research ~IUN~


Hi everybody. Thank you for coming. I want to share with you a vivid memory I
have from my prison work. We sat in a circle – a bunch of students from
the outside, from the University and a bunch of students from the inside, incarcerated
women – together we shared reflections, readings,
thoughts, and hopes for those incarcerated. One particular night, we were celebrating
Michelle’s furlough – she was going home for a long weekend. She was so excited. It was the result of good conduct in prison. So we were happy for her. We asked her to promise us to come back to
the class and share everything about the long weekend with family and friends. She promised she would come back but she never
did. Michelle overdosed that weekend, she passed
away, and our circle was broken. The story of Michelle is not unique to women
in prison. I met many of them with a very similar story Michelle was young, vulnerable, she was heartbroken,
and self-medicated. She had a long history of abuse – all forms
of abuse: emotional, physical, and sexual. But more than anything, she was lonely. Nobody was there to help Michelle when she
needed it the most. My passion for prison sociology started in
graduate school. I was very interested in the fact that in
spite of the huge body of literature that sociologists and criminologist had already developed, the vast
majority of readings were on men. Duh, you would say. Of course. Because more than 90% of those incarcerated
are men. Women represent less than 8% of those in prisons
in America. But it is not an insignificant number. There’s still a large group. Studying women in prison is especially important
because the fate of women in prison can now be considered in disconnect from the
future of the children. Think about all we study about child attachment,
child bonding, child development. When it comes to incarcerated women, their
lives is what determines all those outcomes for the kids. So that should keep us awake at night, right? It should. It is important to know that unlike men, the
majority of women incarcerated are mothers. Unlike men, they are more likely to be solely
responsible for their kids. 62% of the women incarcerated have children
under the age of 18. This seems to be very problematic. Since the 1970s, the United States has experienced
a very rapid growth in incarceration rates. The graph that you see behind me shows you
exactly what happened since 1978 all the way through 2008. Four decades of very rapid growth. It was mostly due to the war on drugs. Perhaps you feel more positive than I do. Perhaps to say: “Okay, the war on drugs is
over.” “We put it in the back. We’re not going there anymore. We’re moving forward.” Perhaps you also see that past 2008, rates
of incarceration for both men and women seem to have stabilized somehow. For some years we actually see a decline. But you can also see that the growth in incarceration rates has been much higher for women than
for men. In fact, between 1978 and 2008 the incarceration
rates for women grew by 134% whereas those for men
grew by 400%. There is something else that this picture
doesn’t tell you; that in spite of the fact that we see some stabilization in rates of incarceration and
maybe some decline, 17 states are still experiencing a growth and the growth in womens’ rate is outpacing
that of mens’. And what is more dramatic is that in 8 states,
including Indiana, womens’ incarceration rates are continuing to grow at the same time that incarceration
rates for men are declining significantly. This is the result of criminal justice reforms. They are targeting men and they are well serving
men but they’re not keeping women out of prison. So we need to focus on that. We need to advocate for women, especially. In my research that I developed with co-authors,
I focused on national random samples of women and men in state prisons. I’ve used statistical techniques to identify
specific patterns in the study of incarceration, re-entry, and adaptation to
prison. I found that women, more than men, tend to be the victim of abuse prior
to incarceration and during incarceration. I also found that women are more likely to
suffer from mental health problems, substance abuse, and a plethora of other problems. I also found that women are more resilient
the men. Incarcerated women are more resilient than
incarcerated men in the sense that in spite of the past abuses they are very unlikely to develop violent
behavior, being incarcerated because of violent behavior. They are also more likely to develop pro-social
skills while adapting to the prison system and complete rehabilitation programs when
they’re given the opportunity. Yet, rehabilitation programs for women are
almost inexistent. Those there are inefficient, inadequate, and
very antiquated. So we need more of that. I learned a lot through my past research,
but this is nothing compared to what I plan to learn in my future research. I am currently designing a study that draws
upon the powers of intersectionality, a theory that teaches us that while women
might all experience marginalization – especially those incarcerated – we are unable to tell the story unless we
focus on the intersection of race, poverty, sexual orientation, motherhood, and many other personal experiences. I don’t have anything else to tell you, but
until I have results please keep fighting for our own sisters. Thank you very much. Thanks for your support. [applause]

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