Why Are Women in Prison?: The Politics of Risk

In discussions about prison reform and decarceration, how does the concept of “risk” influence who goes to prison and for how long? Popular logic deems some prisoners to be “safety risks,” and therefore consigned to long periods of incarceration, while others – including a very large percentage of women – are labeled “low-risk” or less “dangerous.” On this panel, Truthout staff and contributors – Leslie Thatcher, Maya Schenwar, Glenn E. Martin and Victoria Law – delve into the politics and frameworks by which risk is evaluated in the criminal justice system. Who is deemed “dangerous” and why? How is race entrenched in evaluations of risk at every level? What makes women as a whole a less risky population, and why are so many “low-risk” women sent to prison? What very real risks to society are never included in the rhetoric of risk (to the environment, economy, or families and communities of the incarcerated, for example)? How does risk assessment intersect with gender in ways that harm women and gender-nonconforming people? This conversation probes our assumptions around danger, safety, gender, and the measures used to maintain “security” in a society pervaded by prisons.