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Male vs. Female Prisons

Adam De Gree, Ashley Dugger
  • Author
    Adam De Gree

    Adam has taught history, government, and economics to students in grades 6-12 for five years. He has a BA in Philosophy from UC Santa Barbara, and an MA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from CEVRO Institute, Prague, Czech Republic.

  • Instructor
    Ashley Dugger

    Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

Learn about male vs. female prisons. Explore how many men vs. women are in prison and the differences in culture and services offered in male and female prisons. Updated: 07/29/2022

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Male vs. Female Prisons

The United States has an exceptionally large prison population, incarcerating a greater proportion of its citizens than any other country. The vast majority of the nation's 2 million prisons and jails are for men. In federal prisons, about 93% of inmates are men, and at the state level, that rate is about 90%.

Research shows that this higher incarceration rate largely reflects the increased danger that men pose to society. For example, men account for over 75% of violent criminality in the United States. However, it also seems that the justice system favors women in significant ways. Men tend to receive markedly longer sentences for the same crimes as women. Moreover, men are twice as likely to be sent to prison if they are convicted as women are.

Once they are incarcerated, men and women tend to have very different experiences in prison. Women prisoners are kept separate from male prisoners to protect them from sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, female prisons have an entirely distinct subculture from male prisons. Male prisons are notably more dangerous than female prisons. Moreover, while sexual activity is present in both male and female prisons, it may not as often accompany emotional attachment in male prisons. On the other hand, women prisoners form complex pseudofamily structures with one another.

This lesson will look at some of the ways that male and female prisons differ.

How Many Men vs. Women are in Prison?

There is a significant "gender prison gap" at both the federal and state level. While over 1.1 million men are incarcerated in America today, something closer to 80,000 women are serving time. This means that there are roughly 13 men behind bars for every woman behind bars.


Many Americans serve time in prison

A picture of a prison


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  • 0:04 Women's Prisons
  • 2:06 Women Inmates
  • 4:17 Women's Prison Services
  • 6:41 Women's Prison Culture
  • 8:03 Lesson Summary
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Male vs. Female Inmates

In general, male inmates have committed much more serious crimes than female inmates. Thus, a man who is in prison is far more likely to have committed a violent crime than a woman who is in prison. This violent background primes men for a violent prison culture.

Services Offered to Male and Female Inmates

Both male and female inmates receive a wide array of services. In fact, the average cost of incarcerating someone in federal prison for one year well exceeds $40,000. Inmates receive religious services, education, life skills classes, mental health services, and drug and alcohol prevention services, to name just a handful.

Many women inmates are also mothers, so prisons offer a range of services specifically tailored to mothers behind bars. Some states even offer prison nurseries to ensure that babies and mothers are able to build healthy emotional bonds. Nursery programs teach mothers parenting and life skills and offer training in various life skills.

The Culture in Male Prisons vs. Female Prisons

Prison culture refers to the customs, beliefs, social interactions, and values of inmates. It varies significantly in male and female prisons.

In order to protect themselves, male prisoners used to follow a prison code, which was based on loyalty. The code laid out the basic rules of prison life. For example, if someone ordered a good on the black market, they had to pay for it. Prison codes were fairly successful at maintaining order in America's prisons until the 1960s. If a prisoner broke the code, all their inmates found out and reacted by isolating the offender.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are there more male or female prisons?

There are far more male prisons than female prisons. Men make up well over 90% of all inmates in the United States.

How are women's prisons different from men's?

Women prisoners are much less likely to be violent. They form pseudofamilies for emotional support, while men more often form prison gangs.

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