Elevate Difference

Offending Women: Power, Punishment, and the Regulation of Desire

In Offending Women, ethnographer and sociologist Lynne Haney takes readers on a journey into “a world that few people would otherwise have access to”: the everyday reality of the lives of incarcerated women. She introduces readers to incarcerated mothers who are housed together with their children and serving terms in community-based prisons, a type of facility that is becoming increasingly widespread in the US. Haney uncovers the complex layers of control and contestation in these institutions, as well as the relationship of dominance and power that characterize them. The book analyzes the practices, programmatic narratives, and effects of two state prisons in the US, and offers ethnographic and theoretical insights into how programs like these work. Haney's primary aim is to explain how the treatment of imprisoned women has changed over the past decade.

Haney finds that these “alternative” prisons, contrary to their stated goals, often disempower women by transforming their social vulnerabilities into personal pathologies. She exposes the complex gendered underpinnings of methods of control and intervention used in the criminal justice system and links that system to broader discussions of contemporary government and state power by asking why these strategies have emerged and what forms of citizenship they have given rise to. While the intentions of the state were to "empower" and "enhance self-reliance," Haney suggests they instead push women into a state of disentitlement.

Offending Women uncovers two fundamental ways in which states of disentitlement operate: through the narrowing of woman’s needs and the regulation of women’s desires. Enriched with vivid images and details on incarcerated women’s lives, this book reminds us of incarcerated women's social realities. All of them faced poverty and experienced neglect, abandonment, and restricted access to social support. The fact that they not only survived histories of abuse, but managed to keep their familial bonds intact is outstanding. Offending Women acknowledges and honors these women's survival in a social system that promotes their demise.

Written by: Olivera Simic, April 18th 2010

Fabulous review. What I'd like to know is how you felt after you read that book? Did you feel better about knowing more or did it make you feel that the situation was hopeless? Heather