The blog is produced within the framework of the EU-funded project „Monitoring Government’s Commitments and Promoting the Reforms in the Penal Sector through the Engagement of CSOs“ implemented by Penal Reform International together with the partner organizations: Rehabilitation Initiative of Vulnerable Groups and Human Rights Center.
Traditional beliefs about the role and nature of women in Georgia are still widespread, and crime remains to be a masculine phenomenon. The public is less tolerant towards former prisoners, perceives them as “wrongdoers” and treats them accordingly. As a result, convicts face a variety of socio-economic problems, which increases the chance of reoffending. The case becomes even more difficult in case of women prisoners. Both Georgian and world experience confirm that they are subjected to intense pressure and discrimination by the public. A crime committed by a woman is “harder to forgive” due to double standards in a patriarchal society: what is forgivable to a man is completely inadmissible for a woman. Imprisonment is exactly like that as well. The society is more forgiving of male prisoners, and women suffer from double discrimination, on the one hand because of their gender and on the other hand, because of the label of an offender.
Unfortunately, former women prisoners are a completely overlooked group of the Georgian society. Due to the influence of the existing discriminatory background, they try to stay in the shadow. Often even members of their micro-social community are unaware of their criminal past. Also, former women prisoners do not openly talk about the problems and obstacles they face during or after release. Because of this, they have to cope independently with existing challenges, which increases the likelihood of continuing the criminal lifestyle.
Women Prisoners as a Group with Double Stigmatization
Women prisoners feel a special stigma from the society. Societies are less likely to expect a woman to commit a crime and therefore are more intolerant towards them. Tolerance towards women offenders is lower, because society does not respect women who went against their gender roles. She suffers from a double stigma as an offender and as a woman who was placed in prison. It should be noted that the negative attitude of the society is so strong that accused women often do not disclose information about their imprisonment and try to hide this story even from close relatives and acquaintances. One of the common methods used by women to conceal their imprisonment is to “emigrate”.
The biggest problem after getting out of prison is the stigma and negative attitude from the society, which encompasses two major components – fear and mistrust. They are looked at with suspicion and criticized as mothers who have committed a crime. Unfortunately, the scale of the problem is much larger than it seems at first glance. Former women prisoners are discriminated against not only by society but also by their families and closest social circle.
It is noteworthy that victims of stigma are not only women prisoners but also their children. Peer-to-peer bullying due to having a “former prisoner” mother is frequent. To avoid such problems, family members try to hide the woman’s imprisonment to the extent possible.
Stigma That Has 5 Dots
In addition to official documents, the woman prisoner’s body also speaks of years spent in prison. These visual “marks” are tattoos. Painting bodies with specific marks is not only in the men’s penitentiary establishments, but the practice is also successfully replicated in the women’s prison. Each tattoo made in a penitentiary establishment has its own meaning and is easily deciphered by a typical representative of the community interested in body painting. For example, “cinque” (as in a dice) is one of the most common tattoos, consisting of 5 dots. Four dots represent the imitation of the cell, and the fifth dot is the prisoner locked in this cell. This mark is usually made on the hand, making it very easily noticeable. Tattoos made in prison indicate that the owner was in a prison establishment. For them, this is a kind of a mark that they can never get away from and which tells the public about their past lives.
Prisoner Mothers as the Most Vulnerable Group
In Georgia, the function of childcare is mainly given to women, so when a woman enters the penitentiary system, she loses one of her most important social roles and at the same time suffers special discrimination from the public as a guilty mother. The Bangkok Rules obliges the relevant authorities to take into account the women’s caretaking responsibility and typical backgrounds based on the social role of the mother when sentencing women. However, this recommendation is not considered in Georgian reality.
The children of women prisoners are usually raised in the family of their father or a close relative. There are cases when children are generally left unattended and are placed in the care of the state, in specialized family-type services or foster families. According to the Georgian legislation, a woman who is pregnant at the time of detention has the right to live with her child after childbirth in the Unit for Mothers and Children in the prison area for up to the age of 3. However, there are not many other benefits for prisoner mothers.
There is a stereotypical attitude in the Georgian society that “a woman who goes to prison or commits a crime is not worthy of a family or motherhood”. Because of this attitude, family members do not allow the children to visit their prisoner mothers. For them it is unacceptable to let the children visit prison and, consequently, women prisoners are not able to see their children for years. It is noteworthy that the prison already deprives the woman of the opportunity to exercise her right to motherhood, and when in addition the contact is also terminated, there is a high likelihood of alienation.
Why Could Not I find a Job?!
Another fundamental problem for former women prisoners is employment and finding a stable job. In order to avoid reoffending, it is important for the former convicts to achieve financial stability.
The chances of employment are decreased when the former prisoner is deprived of her right to work as an additional punishment. Such prohibition is almost always related to the work or the field of specialization of the accused. This fact leads to the necessity of acquiring a new profession, which, in a competitive market environment, is quite difficult to achieve. In addition, the fields of work in which women are employed in the Georgian society are more intolerant of former offenders. For example, women often work in educational institutions where, for reasons of protection of the next generation, the employment of a former convict is practically excluded.
Another issue that has a major impact on the employment of the former prisoner is the previous conviction. According to Article 79 (3) of the Criminal Code of Georgia, the term of imprisonment for a convicted person is determined by the severity of the crime and varies from 3 to 8 years. As we know, Georgian law permits a potential employer to demand the information about a person’s previous conviction, therefore, former women prisoners actively face this problem during the first few years after their release. In reality, this period is the most critical in terms of their reintegration into society. Unfortunately, the problem of unemployment is already acute in Georgia, and when the label of an offender is added, the degree of the problem increases significantly.
In addition, prisoners talk about the decline in professional skills. Years of imprisonment affect their abilities. Unfortunately, prison does not support the development and personal growth of the prisoner. During detention, the person is isolated from the outside world and, to a certain extent, lags behind the technological or other progress that is taking place in the society, thus s/he is unable to be competitive or able to work with the old profession.
Finally, it can be said that the double stigma of a woman prisoner is our sad reality. The crime committed by a woman is perceived as a “double deviation” in Georgian society, which makes the former women prisoners particularly vulnerable and discriminated against.
For Georgian version, please visit the following link: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/%e1%83%9e%e1%83%90%e1%83%a2%e1%83%98%e1%83%9b%e1%83%90%e1%83%a0%e1%83%98-%e1%83%a5%e1%83%90%e1%83%9a%e1%83%94%e1%83%91%e1%83%98-%e1%83%a1%e1%83%90%e1%83%a5%e1%83%90%e1%83%a0%e1%83%97%e1%83%95%e1%83%94/