Death penalties and life imprisonment are the most discussable aspects of the US harsh criminal system. However, the gender question in the discussion of such criminal cases is marginalized. In fact, 6600 women were sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) up to 2021, the prison sentence without condition to be released earlier (Nellis et al., 2021). In practice, such severe imprisonment pollicy is implemented toward people sentences for high number of years.
The major fact about the women serving LWOP is that minorities are disproportionally represented there. According to Nellis et al. (2021) report, every 39 Black women in prison face LWOP, while only one of every 59 white women imprisoned serves LWOP. The majority of sentenced to LWOP women were convicted of homicide. Concerning age, there is a tendency that 77% of women reportedly committed homicide ended up in prison at the age of 25 or above (Nellis et al., 2021). As for women serving LWOP, the average age is 33 years (Nellis et al., 2021). Such fact poses some concern about the difficulties women face because of long aging in prison.
The number of women imprisoned for criminal cases is increasing in the 21st century. Nellis et al. (2021) indicate that “between 2008 and 2020 there was a 2% increase in the number of women imprisoned for a violent crime” (p. 11). The most significant upsurge was in the level of women serving LWOP sentences, with a 43% rise in the same period (Nellis et al., 2021). The main concern that makes human rights organizations and research organizations engage in is the physical or sexual trauma experienced by women before a crime. It can manifest in severe mental illnesses that contribute to the commitment of a crime. This is further exacerbated by the experience of aging in prison, which becomes unbearable for women (Vannier, 2016). Therefore, the major impact of trauma is that it can influence women’s actions in such times of mental disorder, provoking them to commit crimes.
To sum up, although the number of women serving LWOP sentences is not high relative to men, there is a tendency that there are more and more women facing it. Researchers emphasize the impact of physical and sexual trauma experiences that can explain why women commit violent crimes. What is more, the issue of aging during LWOP provokes mental neglect and anxiety for women, so some organizations demand reforms of the prison system.
Nellis, A., Liston, S. & En, S. (2021). In the extreme: women serving life without parole and death sentences in the United States. The Sentencing Project.
Vannier, M. (2016). Women serving life without the possibility of parole: The different meanings of death as punishment. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 55(3), 328-344.