Body Control: The Politics of Substance Use in Women's Prisons

Catrin Smith, University of Wales, Bangor

Studies of women prisoners as 'substance users' have tended to concentrate on substances which could be regarded as 'mind altering' and/or 'addictive', particulary women's use of illegal drugs. In part, this is understandable, given the significant increase in the number of women imprisoned for drugs-related crimes in recent years and the implications for 'the system' in terms of security and the maintenance of order. However, concentrating solely on female illegal drug use not only upholds traditional images of women prisoners as out of control, in need of control, it fails to consider women's relationship to an array of substances, mind altering or otherwise. This paper, based on in-depth research conducted in three women's prisons in England, explores the ways in which women prisoners experience problems with a whole variety of substances. The paper extends upon current theoretica models used to explain and modify women prisoners' behaviour; provides insights on female prisoners' roles useful for the development of effective intervention strategies; and suggests a form of data collection that uncovers the subject's view of reality.

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Updated 05/20/2006