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In Search of Safety

Confronting Inequality in Women's Imprisonment

Barbara Owen (Author), James Wells (Author), Joycelyn Pollock (Author)


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In Search of Safety takes a close look at the sources of gendered violence and conflict in women’s prisons. The authors examine how intersectional inequalities and cumulative disadvantages are at the root of prison conflict and violence and mirror the women’s pathways to prison. Women must negotiate these inequities by developing forms of prison capital—social, human, cultural, emotional, and economic—to ensure their safety while inside. The authors also analyze how conflict and subsequent violence result from human-rights violations inside the prison that occur within the gendered context of substandard prison conditions, inequalities of capital among those imprisoned, and relationships with correctional staff. In Search of Safety proposes a way forward—the implementation of international human-rights standards for U.S. prisons. 


1. Intersectional Inequality and Women’s Imprisonment
2. Pathways and Intersecting Inequality
3. Prison Community, Prison Conditions, and Gendered Harm
4. Searching for Safety through Prison Capital
5. Inequalities and Contextual Conflict
6. Intersections of Inequality with Correctional Staff
7. Gendered Human Rights and the Search for Safety

Appendix 1: Methodology
Appendix 2: Tables of Findings
Barbara Owen is Professor Emerita at California State University, Fresno. James Wells is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. Joycelyn Pollock is Distinguished Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Texas State University. 
"Theoretically and conceptually sophisticated... the authors provide a sound rationale for their proposed solutions, and they are likely to be applauded by many critical criminologists exposed to them."—Critical Criminology
"A timely and sobering assessment of what mass imprisonment has meant for women behind bars in our country. One could hardly have asked for a better team to compile the assessment."—Theory in Action
"Owen, Wells and Pollock have produced a perceptive and thought-provoking study, an invitation to think creatively about the connections between gender, criminal justice and harm.... Overall, this is an extensive, thorough and important contribution to the field, one which will reverberate personally, politically and professionally."—British Journal of Criminology
"Conceptualizing the incarceration of women as a human rights issue is timely and important, and it is a powerful feminist stance for social justice for this gendered population that is in need of advocacy, treatment, care, and concern. We recommend In Search of Safety: Confronting Inequality in Women’s Imprisonment as a powerful tool for education and empowerment by those who would chose to step forward to offer care for these women behind bars."—Sex Roles
"In Search of Safety: Confronting Inequality in Women’s Imprisonment is an expertly written, and captivating book that examines imprisoned women’s experiences with violence and their ability to navigate prison conflict."—Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books
“For decades, Barbara Owen has provided incisive and authentic insights on the incarceration of women. This book shows the profound neglect and violence women face in the criminal justice system, and the unique ways in which gender compounds the punishment of confinement. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to see justice-involved women regain their human and civil rights in the United States and beyond.”—Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison

“This is a masterful piece of scholarship, providing readers with a thorough understanding of the distressing conditions facing incarcerated women throughout the U.S. These authors have given us a comprehensive stock of information about women’s prisons while allowing ample space for the voices of incarcerated women to be heard. The effect is chilling and deeply moving.”—Katherine Irwin, coauthor of Jacked Up and Unjust and Beyond Bad Girls

“Profoundly humanistic and sensitively informed by the intersection of social, cultural, historical, and structural sources of identity and opportunity. In this remarkable book we see how cumulative disadvantages and harms associated with gender find their fullest, and often cruelest, expression in the state-sponsored harms meted out in prisons for women. The mix of methods and the theoretical sophistication found in this volume set a new standard for prison research, if not for social research generally. This book is destined to be a classic.”—Robert Johnson, coeditor of A Woman Doing Life and Life without Parole

“The authors have engaged in the best kind of research—the kind that is informed by rigorous fieldwork, courageous writing, and nuanced analysis. They clearly understand women’s and girls’ experience in custodial settings and are unafraid to amplify what is known but also to chart new and interesting territory.”—Brenda V. Smith, Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law, and former Commissioner, National Prison Rape Elimination Commission

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