CHOWCHILLA, California—Over the past few months, media coverage of State prisons has centered on inmate releases to hunger strikes, though has minutely covered anything specifically regarding female prisons.
Though, lacking coverage does not reflect lacking importance, as female inmates have inspired an influential mediator to contribute peace to the world.
Despite their prison setting reportedly predisposing them to violence, females within California’s Valley State prison, one of the largest female prisons in the world, have gained training for resolving conflict inside the prison.
As of the end of 2010, there were approximately 163,000 inmates in California State prisons with females contributing to 6 percent of the population, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Whereas 60 percent of male inmates were imprisoned for violent crimes, 39 percent of female inmates were imprisoned for the same offense category, while 34 percent female inmates were imprisoned for property crimes and 22 percent for drug crimes.
African American inmates were more likely to be imprisoned than any other group, for every 100,000 African American women, 342 were incarcerated. Latinas had an incarceration rate of 57, while Whites females had a rate of 66 and Asian females had a rate of 5.
There are 18 women on death row.
As California imprisons more females, than anywhere else in the world, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered 33,000 inmates to be released over the next two years and in September 2011 California began the process of releasing between 4,000 and 9,500 female inmates.
Female inmates who have children at home, were convicted of nonviolent, non-sexual crimes, and have two years left on their sentences will be considered.
Most females will serve their remaining time at home, while others will go to drug treatment centers or halfway houses.
The releases are responses to California’s overcrowded prisons.
Overcrowding equals violence
According to University California of Santa Cruz (UCSC) Director of the Social Psychology Graduate program and Legal Studies program Professor Craig Haney, there are many negative effects that result from overcrowded prisons, violence being one of them.
“Prisoners in overcrowded correctional settings interact with more unfamiliar people, under extremely close quarters that afford little or no privacy,” Professor Haney wrote in an essay titled, Prison Overcrowding: Harmful Consequences and Dysfunctional Reactions. “Their basic needs are less likely to be addressed or met.”
Violence is a form of acquiring those needs, which range from privacy in using the restroom to education and labor, which decrease idleness and boredom.
“Idleness-related frustration increases the probability of interpersonal conflict and assault in prison,” he wrote, adding that overcrowded prisons offer “less for prisoners to do, fewer outlets to release the resulting tension, a decreased staff capacity to identify prisoner problems, and fewer options to solve them if and when they do.”
Prison of Peace
As a result of one Valley State inmate’s handwritten letter asking for help resolving conflict in her prison, professional mediator Mr. Douglas E. Noll co-founded Prison of Peace.
Prison of Peace is a nonprofit organization that teaches peacemaking and mediating skills to female inmates, many of them serving sentences for offenses like murder, characterized by intent to kill and manslaughter, characterized by lacking intent to kill.
“While working with these women, I saw many similarities to war and violence,” Mr. Noll was quoted in a PR Web press release on 31 October 2011. “My thought was that if we could be successful teaching these women with dark pasts to be peacemakers, it would be a strong testament to the idea that peacemaking in other equally difficult and challenging parts of the world would be possible.”
Working with the Valley State female inmates contributed inspiration to his new book, Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts.
“Through working with these women I was energized with hope that world conflicts could be mediated, and peace can be achieved,” he was quoted in the release. “The book offers strategies for accomplishing peace in areas of conflict around the world, as well as mediating peace at home.”
Thought to consider
Can female inmates at Valley State prison inspire your community to resolve conflict?