Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Wei-Chin Hwang

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The United States leads the world in incarceration rates, accounting for a quarter of the world’s incarcerated population. As efforts to improve the existing mass incarceration problem have led to decreases in male prison populations, women’s incarceration rates have been outpacing men, and they are now the fastest growing segment. Although they make up a smaller percentage of the overall incarcerated population, females report the highest rates of current and past mental health problems at more than two times their male counterparts. Extensive psychological research shows that women and men enter the prison system through different pathways and with very different histories. Even though women are exposed to higher risk factors of mental illness and substance abuse, almost all of the United States’ criminal justice policy is gender neutral or crafted based on research of male participants or for the correction of male inmates. As a result of the lack of relevant resources specific to women, current corrections systems are unable to adequately meet the psychological needs specific to female prisoners. In order to address the health crisis among incarcerated women, there is a need for gender- responsive and trauma- informed care to acknowledge and account for the crucially different life experiences women and men experience. This paper examines the current state of mental health in female offenders, differences in legal standards and histories leading to incarceration, and recommendations for gender- aware policy reform and treatment.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.