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A Brief History of Doing Time: The California Institution for Women in the 1960s and the 1990s

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Recent scholarship on penality describes profound changes in the ideology, discourses, and policies shaping criminal punishment in the late-twentieth-century United States. To assess the implications of these changes for those subject to criminal punishment, we examine the experiences of women in prison at two key points in the recent history of penality. We compare how imprisonment was practiced and responded to at the California Institution for Women in the early 1960s, when the rehabilitative model dominated official penal discourse, and in the mid-1990s, near the height of the “get tough” era. We find that the ways in which women related and responded to other prisoners, to staff, and to the prison regime, while in some ways specific to one or the other penal era, did not fundamentally change. Thus, penal regimes ostensibly informed by profoundly different rationalities nevertheless structured the daily lives of prisoners through a very similar set of deprivations, restrictions, and assumptions.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2004

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