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Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 1(4) (1993) 28-31

Locking Up Women

Director: NA
Release Information: Films for the Humanities and
Sciences, Princeton, New Jersey. (1993) VHS 52 min.
Rating: NR

Until recently, women prisoners have tended to be a neglected population. Programs, such as Locking Up Women, which examine women's adaptation to the prison environment help to raise the visibility of the female prisoner.

England's Holloway Prison, once a highly secure facility for women, has undergone a change and is now considered to be "easy" according to some prison officers. This program explores life on the inside for both women inmates and staff whose perspectives on doing time at Holloway often vary significantly.

The program emphasizes the progressive changes that have been instituted for the inmates, including the implementation of work and educational programs, freedom to roam the prison grounds, and increased interaction with staff. Some of the officers believe that prison life has become too soft for the inmates. Others express concern for the women and the underlying issues that often contribute to their criminality, such as past physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, and psychological problems. Although the staff discuss the enhanced freedoms that the women experience at Holloway as a result of these progressive changes, clearly the emphasis of the institution is still on security as the regimen of locking the women in their cells at night and not unlocking them until morning suggests.

The prison staff are underpaid, poorly trained, and overworked, and some officers express concern that alcoholism and addiction to other drugs pose a serious problem for their colleagues and themselves. The viewer gets the impression that the staff are not all that different from the inmates, although several believe that they are superior to the women and act accordingly.[End page 32]

The program is relevant to the field of criminal justice in that it examines a contemporary prison for women and how this institution affects inmates and staff alike. It would be of interest to an undergraduate class in corrections, criminal justice, criminology, or women's studies because it sheds light on the day-to-day routine of a women's prison. It does not address the other issues that concern women prisoners such as contact with their children and other family members, visitation, pregnancy, gynecological and prenatal care, and pre-release arrangements (housing, jobs, child care). Moreover, serious medical problems plaguing incarcerated women in the United States and Europe, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted diseases are also not addressed in this program.

One note of caution to instructors is that the film is difficult to follow because the quality of the sound is somewhat poor. Additionally, the film lacks cohesion--it tends to wander back and forth rather than developing and following major themes. The reviewer does not recommend this video for classes which meet in large lecture-style auditoriums or other similar settings. Despite these caveats, Locking Up Women merits 2 1/2 gavels on the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture's rating scale.

Barbara Bloom, M.S.W., M.A.
University of California, Riverside
Department of Sociology[End page 33]


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