Gendered Rehabilitation: Targeting Treatment of Reproducing Inequality?

April 2011

Jessica JB Wyse, University of Michigan

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Abstract

Gender theorists have argued that gender neutral policy and bureaucratic practices disadvantage women because neutrality masks a male bias. In response, some have suggested that policy and practice should be tailored to meet gender-specific needs. Yet others have argued that targeting treatment to gender categories simply reifies these categories and reinforces existing gender inequality. This study investigates these tensions by examining gender specific treatment implemented within a community correctional system. Based on analysis of officers’ case notes and fieldwork with community corrections agents, the author finds that gendered treatment shapes both the rehabilitative project and the nature of social control experienced by women and men. The author suggests that officers conceptualize men and women’s criminality and rehabilitation in ways that reinforce gendered beliefs or symbolic associations of masculinity with greater status, competence and power and femininity with dependency, powerlessness and psychological disorder. However, because greater responsibility or agency for one’s criminal offending may lead to more punitive treatment, men are in some ways materially disadvantaged by this association. Thus the author suggests that gender specific treatment in the correctional context may have positive material but negative symbolic consequences for women, with the situation reversed for men.



Keywords:
Crime, Incarceration, and the Labor Market, Discrimination