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The number of imprisoned women worldwide has increased dramatically over the past forty years. More than half a million women are currently incarcerated, and the growth rate of women’s imprisonment has outstripped that of men’s. Despite neoliberal commitments to cut back state services, many states have dramatically increased spending on policing and imprisonment, and the privatization of prisons and the diffusion of carceral power have escalated. A special issue of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (Autumn 2013; Volume 39, Number 1), now available on JSTOR, addresses these troubling and complex trends. This issue features incisive feminist and intersectional critical analyses of the experiences of imprisoned women in diverse geographical and historical contexts, the raced-gendered logics through which carcerality operates, and the role of incarceration and policing in producing gendered, raced, and classed national subjects.
The wide-ranging new research collected in this issue of Signs explores the unique forms of discipline, control, and abuse experienced by women and gender-variant people. Topics include the dismantling of welfare states, the feminization of poverty, and the consequent survival strategies that put some women in conflict with the law; the criminalization and subsequent harassment of sex workers as targets of reform in the service of nationalist discourses; the scapegoating of migrant women in efforts to shore up national boundaries and identities; and the unique forms of raced and classed discipline to which mothers may be subjected.
The articles in the Autumn 2013 issue of Signs show that violence—sexual and otherwise—is not an organic facet of prison life but rather originates from and forms part of the state’s logic of carceral control. Historical contributions counter the prevailing view of prisons as paradigmatically male spaces, identify the role of colonial legal systems in present methods of punishment, and expose the deeply racialized roots of prison and disciplinary systems in the United States. As a whole, the Autumn 2013 special issue demonstrates the importance of feminist research in analyzing the injustices perpetuated by criminal punishment systems, the key role of prisons in contributing to imbalances in gender and racial power, and alternative visions of justice.
Investigating past and present prison conditions in Argentina, Greece, Italy, Peru, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States, “Women, Gender, and Prison: National and Global Perspectives” is published by the University of Chicago Press and includes articles by Camille Boutron and Chloé Constant; Andriani Fili; Jerry Flores; G. Geltner; Sarah Haley; Lynne Haney; Jessi Lee Jackson; Carol Jacobsen and Lora Bex Lempert; Sabrina Mahtani; Jody Miller and Kristin Carbone-Lopez; Sarah Pemberton; and Constanza Tabbush and María Florencia Gentile.
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (http://journals.uchicago.edu/Signs), at the forefront of new directions in feminist scholarship, is recognized as the leading international journal in women’s studies. Signs publishes pathbreaking articles, review essays, comparative perspectives, and retrospectives of interdisciplinary interest addressing gender, race, culture, class, nation, and sexuality. Special issue and section topics cover a broad range of geopolitical processes, conditions, and effects; cultural and social configurations; and scholarly and theoretical developments.