The Author reviews journalist Silja Talvi’s Women Behind Bars: The Growing Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System (“Women Behind Bars”) which presents an engaging overview of issues affecting incarcerated women. It succinctly illustrates some of the important connections involving the War on Drugs, racial disparity, and the high rate of substance abuse and physical and sexual abuse among incarcerated women. Each of the chapters could be assigned on its own to a class or reading group. While Talvi states that she is not trying to write a scholarly book, as a contribution to public discourse, Women Behind Bars furthers the goal of increasing awareness about the growing population of women prisoners. Talvi bases her account on interviews with women prisoners: she interviewed one hundred women prisoners over two years and corresponded with about three hundred. She visited prisons and jails in Florida, California, Arizona, Washington,and New Mexico and toured women’s institutions in the United Kingdom, Finland, and Canada for comparison.
Because it is so accessible, Talvi’s project can help focus attention on this growing population of women prisoners. Incarcerated women’s stories represent a distillation of the larger forces that affect free women—racism, sexism, and economic pressure. For these reasons, among others, incarcerated women should not be forgotten, despite the stigma of their criminal convictions and their physical removal from the community. Though incarcerated women may be locked up, they should not be overlooked.
29 Pace L. Rev. 377 (2009)