Guest lecturer recounts volunteering inside a women’s prison

by Ben Pierce, Staff Writer 684 views0

As of 2010 approximately 1 out of every 31 U.S. adults is behind bars.

Of those incarcerated over 113,000 are women accounting for approximately 6.5 percent of the total inmate population.

On October 13th COC’s Sociology club presented a lecture from Professor Emeritus Dr. Jane Prather about her experiences volunteering as a teacher inside a women’s prison.

After spending 40 years as a Sociology professor at Cal State Northridge, Dr. Prather decided to use her background as an educator to help female inmates earn associate degrees while still incarcerated.

“I was looking for something where I felt like I could volunteer and use the talents that I have. I feel like I’m contributing to somebody’s life and to society.”

Funded by the Marymount organization of nuns, Dr. Prather volunteers at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York.

“I’m a volunteer because no state or federal money can be used to teach college classes for prisoners.”

Women in prison face many hardships that differ from men including unique healthcare requirements, pregnancy and child-care issues and complex relationships with male guards.

“[In maximum-security prisons] one third of women prisoners are in for murder… another third are in for accomplices to murder… one fifth are in for drugs and about 15 percent are in for major theft [of]… large sums of money.”

Dr. Prather is particularly interested in prison reform,

“In California and New York… we are spending more on prisons than on higher education which is a very serious problem.  We could do a lot more with ankle bracelets and let people out earlier. Particularly for women in maximum security where most of them have not had a long list of offenses.”

“Many prisoners are mentally ill when they enter prison and rather than just imprison them we need more [out-patient] drug treatment programs.”

“Also we need improved parole boards. There is a notion [among parole board members] that men commit more crimes than women and if a women commits a crime than she must really be… the pitts… and sometimes they actually extend sentences.”

Dr. Prather also reflected on how her view of female prison inmates has changed,

“I thought I would see them much more as good people and bad people… criminals and others… and I began to realize all of us make mistakes and do something impulsively and maybe any of us could be in their shoes.”

A video presentation providing additional information regarding Dr. Prather’s work volunteering at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women can be found at the following link:

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