Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Women in Solitary Confinement: Relationships, Pseudofamilies, and the Limits of Control

Women in Solitary Confinement: Relationships, Pseudofamilies, and the Limits of Control

Aranda-Hughes, Vivian, Jillian J. Turanovic, Daniel P. Mears, and George B. PestaWomen in Solitary Confinement: Relationships, Pseudofamilies, and the Limits of Control.Feminist Criminology (2020), 1-26. 

This article, published in Feminist Criminology, examines womens unique experience in restrictive housing in one of the nations largest womens prisons. The studys goal was to investigate how women respond to extended restrictive housing (placement for six months or more) and build on previous research about the prominence of relationships and pseudo families among incarcerated women. Researchers collected data from a state prison that houses all women in the states RH population through social observations and qualitative focus groups with 15 correctional staff that worked in restrictive housing.  

Testimony from staff reinforced the idea that women placed a high value on forming close relationships with other women, creating close friendships, romantic or sexual partnerships, and pseudo families to cope with separation from their own families. Researchers also found that staff perceived these bonds to shape behavior and placement in restrictive housing. For example, staff members noted women act out on behalf of their family or follow family members into restrictive housing by engaging in misconduct. The article also outlines the ways women build and maintain relationships while in restrictive housing. For example, women may chat, pass kites or notes, stay up late together, or threaten or engage in self-harm to be moved to observation cells or mental health units together. These findings contrast the typical narrative of restrictive housing in mens prisons and create a less isolated depiction of restrictive housing. Because interpersonal relationships are essential in women’s prisons, restrictive housing may not be a suitable response to women’s behavior. This study’s findings underscore the need for gender-responsive rehabilitative approaches to address the underlying issues that result in women’s placement in restrictive housing.  

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Keywords: women, female, Florida State University, management, correctional officers, staff, family, social tiescommunication, mental health, self-injurious behavior.