Monday, September 25, 2006

Do Prisons Heap More Abuse On Girls With A History Of Being Abused?

In many cases, unfortunately, the answer is yes according to the Human Rights Watch report, Conditions of Confinement in New York’s Juvenile Prisons for Girls.

This subject cuts close to the bone for me because my behavior after being raped was often out of line. If you compared my public behavior to that of my rapist, you would have thought he was the better person. Any action I viewed as controlling set me off so I know I wouldn't have been a cooperative prisoner if my actions had led me to being taken into custody.

Poverty is a major risk factor for delinquency, and often is accompanied by other risk factors related to family disruption. Incarcerated girls in particular have frequently experienced emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse at home. This history of abuse may be the most significant underlying cause of behaviors leading to girls’ delinquency. In New York, an informal survey of incarcerated girls conducted in the 1980s by OCFS officials found that over 70 percent had experienced physical or sexual abuse prior to their incarceration. This finding is consistent with national estimates. Histories of abuse and trauma help explain why, nationally, the majority of girls entering the juvenile justice system suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental health problems, substance abuse, and physical ailments. (emphasis mine)
I suspect that girls who exhibit the same behavior, but who live well above the poverty level are viewed differently or have more resources. I'm sure I benefited to a large extent from being from a middle-class, intact, "law abiding" family. If the base assumption was that I was riffraff, I might have bumped into the criminal justice system much more than I did.

A New York delinquency attorney observes that “There’s a fair amount of self-medicating going on among the girls. It’s identified as a chronic drug problem, but really it’s the underlying problem that never gets addressed.” The justice system’s response to these patterns, that of arresting and prosecuting the girls concerned, has been dubbed the “criminalization of girls’ survival strategies.”
This is so true. My first run in with the law came the day after being taken to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

Often the more a girl is abused the less innocent she looks to the system and the more cynical she is that people are on her side. If a system responds to all uncooperative behavior by fighting fire with fire, the only result can be trouble for everyone.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 7:31 PM   2 comments links to this post


At September 26, 2006 5:53 PM, Blogger Holly Desimone said...

Hi Marcella,
Excellent post, thank you for bringing this to my attention. Take care

At September 27, 2006 1:10 PM, Blogger Gracchi said...

Good post. I've never really thought about it but one of the consequences of such a horrible event must be trauma and that can ressolve itself if left untreated in all sorts of ways both negative and positive like alcohol abuse. Thanks for this post, it made me think.


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