Making the Best of It: Measuring Prison Adjustment of Life-Sentenced Women

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Cook, Nicole Alexandrine
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Middle Tennessee State University
The US has experienced an estimated 500% increase in incarceration rates from the 1980’s to present day; an upsurge that has disproportionately affected women’s incarceration rates (up 700% over the same time period) (Carson and Anderson 2016). Moreover, the average sentence length increased despite the fact that there is no marked increase in violent crime. Women serving long sentences may experience unique adjustment issues that are either absent from, or operate differently in, men’s prison populations and among women who are serving shorter sentences. With little research regarding how women adjust to an extended prison stay, this research contributes to the understanding of the complexity of adjustment for life-sentenced women.
Drawing on a sample of 214 life-sentenced women in a Southern state, this mixed-methods research offers a methodological contribution to the literature by examining an existing overall prison adjustment measure. Using factor analysis techniques, five subscales as well as two stand-alone measures for adjustment resulted, indicating that there are different adjustment types present within the overall measure. Findings suggest that women have the greatest difficulty adjusting to separation from family, overall loss of freedom, and lack of autonomy and control in prison. While still adjustment concerns, these women appear to adjust relatively more easily to abiding by prison rules and policies, inside social life, and psychological adjustment. Consistent with other studies, this research finds that most, although not all, psychologically adjust to prison as their time served increases. This may be a reason that the findings indicate psychological adjustment was less of a concern for the overall sample. Additionally, variations in women's age, abuse histories, family, and mental health indicators differentially shape women’s adjustments to prison living.
Female inmates, Life sentence, Prison adjustment