#ONE

IN FEMALE INCARCERATION

WOMEN BEHIND BARS is a film production affiliated with the University of Oklahoma and the research of Dr. Susan Sharp.


Dr. Sharp, L. J. Semrod Presidential Professor in the Department of Sociology and instructor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma, began conducting research on the life histories of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women 10 years ago. Through her continued efforts to educate the public on issues of female criminal behavior she has helped make it for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to facilitate the needs of it’s female prison population.


Oklahoma is currently ranked number ONE for female incarceration per capita in the United States - a country that leads the developed world in incarcerating it’s own citizens.


Watch the Panel Discussion from the CLS 50th Anniversary Screening of Women Behind Bars to hear expert opinion on the Issue

Despite the fact that Oklahoma’s crime rate is average - ranked 17th nationally - their female incarceration rate (134 per 100,000) has peaked at over twice the national average for women (60 per 100,000).


Nearly 80% of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women are non-violent offenders, their presence in Oklahoma Correctional Facilities largely attributable to drug abuse, the distribution of controlled substances, prostitution and property crimes.


As the director and producer, I was able to bring together students from the various academic backgrounds of Film, Photography and Women’s and Gender Studies, to function as a tight-knit crew on the production of a documentary that would give voices to Oklahoma’s incarcerated women and their children. We were presented with the unique and fortunate opportunity of working alongside Dr. Sharp while making this film, and un-wavering support from Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections was due to her recommendation and assistance, as well as the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ expressed desire to improve the situations of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women.


According to Dr. Sharp’s research, approximately 60% of Oklahoma’s female prisoners have been the victims of sexual and physical abuse as children, over 90% have been the victims of domestic violence in their adult lives, and nearly all of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder related to these experiences.


Many of them remain untreated.


In addition, over half of the women in Oklahoma’s correctional facilities have less than a high school education, over half are mothers, and many of them are the heads of single parent led households.


There has been a response to the phenomenon of increased female detention in the last few years. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections established the Division of Female Offender Operations in 2008, hoping to address the more complex needs presented by female corrections: drug counseling, reproductive and health services, financial support, education, and programs geared towards reintegration. But Oklahoma’s recent budget shortfalls have led to financial cuts across the state, and the DOC has seen an annual decline in support from state providers, making their responses less timely.


It costs Oklahoma approximately $24,000 per inmate, per year to sustain the current female incarceration rate. Millions of dollars could be saved if Oklahoma were to discontinue the practice of sentencing to prison those who commit non-violent and drug related crimes by, instead, sending them through effective rehabilitative treatment, funding public education, and providing effective community care centers for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.


When women who live below the poverty line aren’t given a means to a decent living or education, they often find themselves in abusive relationships with little or no personal power. To escape, many self-medicate with illegal drugs. They also engage in prostitution and the trafficking of drugs, either through the coercion of an abusive spouse, or out of necessity due to a lack of financial stability.


Domestic violence, reproductive rights, the feminization of poverty: words commonly used in the scholarly circles that study in-depth women’s human rights. But to the average reader, what do these words stand for? How do they translate to the public in a way that actually hits home?


The first thing we must all come to understand is that women’s human rights affect all human rights.Women are increasingly becoming the heads of single parent led homes. To a large extent, they are responsible for supporting, nurturing and educating their children. The health of a mother determines the health of a child, future generations, and society at large.financial stability.


Domestic violence, reproductive rights, the feminization of poverty: words commonly used in the scholarly circles that study in-depth women’s human rights. But to the average reader, what do these words stand for? How do they translate to the public in a way that actually hits home?


The first thing we must all come to understand is that women’s human rights affect all human rights.Women are increasingly becoming the heads of single parent led homes. To a large extent, they are responsible for supporting, nurturing and educating their children. The health of a mother determines the health of a child, future generations, and society at large.


When a mother is taken from a family, whether by death or incarceration, the ripple effects of her loss are felt by everyone and there is an added burden to her extended family, friends and community members. The lack of stability shifts itself outward.


Children with an incarcerated mother are also affected, and are five times as likely to end up in prison themselves. Their family life becomes unstable, their grades suffer, and they experience higher rates of depression as they struggle with the truth of their parents’ criminalization.


Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate is a reflection of the standards set by state legislatures and policy makers who have adopted particularly harsh penalties for non-violent drug crimes.


In recent years, Oklahoma legislators have focused their locus of control on the public through coercive legislation limiting public health resources and individual freedoms. Women's rights to private and safe abortions, affordable healthcare, alternative education in cases of pregnancy, decent public education in cases of minority, protection from domestic violence and treatment for drug addiction have either come directly under attack or gone completely forgotten and underfunded.


WOMEN BEHIND BARS will take viewers inside Oklahoma’s state prisons, and face to face with the women we place there - women who struggle with the very real and often ignored issues just outlined.


Please, follow our blog, add us on Facebook, and consider making a donation to the continued production of this film through our Paypal account. Check back for additional posts, photos, events and videos as the production of the film progresses.


For now, by reading, passing this link on to a friend, or asking questions you can make a difference.


Thank you
Amina Benalioulhaj, Director Women Behind Bars