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Women in prison

Women in prison represent a particularly marginalized group, with a high incidence of mental, social and substance abuse problems. Because women usually make up a very small proportion of inmates in prisons, their particular challenges and needs tend to disappear into the background. Although there are indications that there are many important differences between women and men in prison, knowledge of gender-specific factors in this population is limited. 

Women who are currently incarcerated or have been in prison represent a distinct and particularly vulnerable social group. In many crucial aspects, they differ significantly from both male inmates and women in the general population, which can have significant implications for their experiences during incarceration and post-release.

Women who are sentenced to prison often have convictions for different and less serious crimes than men. They frequently receive shorter sentences and are less likely to be convicted of violent offenses. Many of them have backgrounds marked by abuse, mental illness, and substance addiction. The management of several Norwegian women's prisons has pointed out how a significant proportion of their inmates would be better served by psychiatric care rather than the criminal justice system. Many women in Norwegian prisons are convicted for offenses that are a direct consequence of their mental health problems and not receiving adequate help in a timely manner.

Furthermore, women constitute a very small proportion of the total prison population. This also has significant implications for their experiences both during and after their time in prison. Firstly, most prisons are built and organized based on the needs and challenges of male inmates. It is known that incarcerated women have completely different needs and challenges compared to men, and this has repeatedly been a concern raised by both the correctional services and the ombudsman.

The fact that Norway has few female inmates also means that there are few dedicated women's prisons. This limits the opportunities, to a greater extent for women than for men, to tailor the rehabilitation process. For example, many women may have to serve their sentences far away from their families or, for practical reasons (rather than security concerns), be placed in higher-security facilities than necessary. This can contribute to a heightened sense of isolation, which in turn is a significant risk factor for both poor health and mortality.

The objective of the PriSUD project is to describe women in Norwegian prisons, with a particular focus on mortality, the prevalence of substance abuse and other mental disorders, as well as prospects for rehabilitation and reintegration into society after their release. The work on women has been given its own sub-project: WOMPRIS.

Publications on the topic

Svendsen, Vegard G., Marianne Riksheim Stavseth, Torbjørn Skardhamar, and Anne Bukten. "Psychiatric morbidity among women in Norwegian prisons, 2010–2019: a register-based study." BMC psychiatry 23, no. 1 (2023): 390.

Bukten, Anne, Stavseth, Marianne Riksheim, Skurtveit, Svetlana, Tverdal, Aage, Strang, John, and Clausen, Thomas. "High Risk of Overdose Death Following Release from Prison: Variations in Mortality During a 15 ‐ Year Observation Period." Addiction (2017).

Bukten, Anne, Lund, Ingunn Olea, Kinner, Stuart A., Rognli, Eline Borger, Havnes, Ingrid Amalia, Muller, Ashley Elizabeth, and Stavseth, Marianne Riksheim. "Factors Associated with Drug Use in Prison - Results from the Norwegian Offender Mental Health and Addiction (Norma) Study." Health & Justice 8, no. 1 (2020): 10.

Bukten, A; Stavseth, MR; Skurtveit, S, Lund, IO; Clausen, T.

Intoxication and Health situation among inmates in the penal care.

SERAF report, 2/2016 (pdf)

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