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Women and Crime Course Takes Students to Visit a Women’s Correctional Facility

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Posted on April 17, 2019 by By Stephanie Nolan ’19, a Delaware Valley University counseling psychology major .

This entire semester has about been about breaking down what we “know” to be true about female criminals and developing a deeper understanding of why women commit crimes in addition to how female criminals differ from male criminals. 

With the semester almost over, I felt like I knew what to expect from a women’s prison. I thought I was prepared to visit Edna Mahan Women’s Correctional Facility in New Jersey, but just five minutes after arriving I found myself totally surprised. 

When many people think of a prison they expect barbed wire, hours spent in security checks, and a constant sense of tension. In reality, the only barbed wire was well within the prison surrounding the maximum-security area, the security checks took about 10 minutes, and walking around was pretty calm.

While it wasn’t exactly relaxing, the experience was much less ominous than I expected. While walking from building to building we often saw women doing the same and going about their own business. Our guide explained each building’s purpose and the various programs offered to the inmates (my favorite was Puppies Behind Bars) as rehab and to prepare them for reintegration into society. 

Some people who are “hard on crime” say that we are too nice to our prisoners. “They did the crime…” and all that. 

While Edna Mahan seemed more relaxed than an intense prison movie, it’s still not a luxury to be there. 

The women are only allowed one immediate family visit outside the prison every six months, meaning if they have a sick relative they will have to choose between saying goodbye in the hospital or attending the funeral. 

Every woman was required to have a job within the prison, with wages ranging as low as $1.50 per hour. On top of their low wages, they also only keep a portion of their salaries; a third goes to court fees and some of the money goes to the commissary.

The women are only allowed so many visits a month, so if they have children or family they are limited in their availability to see them.

This trip definitely showed me that I knew information from this class, but I didn’t understand it. Women who are in prison have a totally different set of norms from male inmates. I knew that women inmates held different values, and would require different measures for security, but I really didn’t understand that concept until I walked around the prison and experienced it. 

The women were more interested in maintaining the positive relationships they had both inside and outside the prison than escaping to Route 70 and ruining the progress they’d made inside. 

Dr. Smith (a DelVal assistant professor of criminal justice) stresses the idea that prison and the criminal justice system are almost never about “good guys vs. bad guys” with the good guys being the cops and bad guys being the inmates. 

When we treat inmates as human beings who chose the wrong path (or often times, the only path available to them) they don’t feel the need to respond with violence and defiance. When people are treated with human kindness they often take the opportunities presented to them and do the best they can. The trip to visit this facility was a ridiculously valuable experience and part of an amazing class.

About the Author 

Courtesy: Stephanie Nolan ’19. Stephanie Nolan ’19.

Stephanie Nolan ’19 is a Delaware Valley University counseling psychology major. She recently learned about the criminal justice system by visiting the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women as part of a class trip. The trip is part of a Women and Crime course, which is offered through the University’s Department of Criminal Justice. On campus, Nolan is involved in the Psychology Club and, serves as a representative for Inter-Club Council.