How Are Women’s Prisons Different From Men’s?

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

The United States houses many more men’s prisons than women’s, as there are more of the former offenders. This means that when we hear about prisons, they’re almost always the male version. But is there a difference between women’s and men’s prisons? 

If you’ve seen the Netflix drama Orange is the New Black, then you might be thinking that there is a substantial difference. But how realistic is this show to the real world? 

In reality, women’s prisons are not comedic or entertaining, but as harsh as men’s. Let’s take a look at both female and male prisons, and now they differ. 

What is a prison? 

A prison is a correctional facility that is used to confine offenders of the justice system for a prolonged period of time. They are run by the state that they are located within and therefore will have some differences between each one. 

The offender will be taken to the prison once they have been convicted and sentenced. Women will serve their sentence in a prison designed for women, and men will do the same in the male alternative. 

Differences between male and female prisons

Out of around 4500 prisons in the United States, only around 170 are for female inmates. You might be thinking that male and female prisons shouldn’t, and therefore won’t, be any different from one another, but you’d be incorrect. There are few similarities between male and female prisons. 

Security level

The security level of these two prisons is where the biggest difference lies between women’s and men’s prisons. The security level refers to the dictation of the type and number of safety measures put in place to protect the public from the offenders. 

Not only that, but security measures can also be put in place to protect the inmates from other inmates. 

Women’s prisons tend not to have the tall stone walls, razor wire barriers, or armed guard towers that you’ll often find in male prisons. Instead, they’ll look more like a college campus, with dormitories or little houses for the inmates instead of cell blocks. 

This sounds unfair, but the reason why women have a lower security level is because they tend to be less violent inmates and are able to co-exist with one another. This allows them to have more freedom to walk around, exercise, attend classes, eat together, have visitors, and more. 

Women prisons are more likely to resemble that of a men’s minimum or medium security prison rather than a maximum security prison. 

Reduced violence

As we touched on before, women inmates tend to be less violent offenders and therefore their prisons see less violence within them. This isn’t to say that there is never any violence, but it can be quickly cut out of a women’s facility. The violent offender will often be taken into isolation or to a higher security women’s prison.

On the other hand, male offenders are much more violent to one another and therefore it is much more difficult for prison guards to keep under control without the added security measures. It is easier to keep men in prisons with higher security in place and leads to less injuries or fatalities of the inmates and the prison workers. 

Instead of being more violent, women offenders are more likely to be in prison due to property or drug offences than male prisoners. Studies found that the majority of women inmates had experienced abuse, whether it be physical or sexual. 

Crimes committed by the inmates

One study has shown that 75% female offenders have mental health issues while 60% have substance abuse problems. It also showed that most crimes committed by women are a direct result of one of these issues. 

Alternatively, male offenders are more likely to be serving time for violent crimes. This is an umbrella term for crimes that threaten or actually use force against the victim. A few examples are assault, robbery, and murder. 

It is also more common to find cases of recidivism in male prisons, which is otherwise known as repeated criminal activity. This means that male prisons are more likely to house people serving their second, third, fourth sentence, or even more. 

Women prisons are populated by first time offenders rather than repeat inmates. This, along with the fact that crimes are often drug related rather than violence, female sentences tend to be shorter than males. 

Rehabilitation services

Considering that their sentences are shorter, you might think that rehabilitation services in women’s prisons are needed to prevent them from becoming repeat offenders once they are returned into society. 

Moreover, female prisoners are commonly found to be single mothers. This further increases the need for rehabilitation programs so that they can return to their families without the heightened risk of them returning to prison. 

However, there are much less rehabilitation services offered compared to that in a male prison. This might make sense as men are more likely to have longer sentences and therefore will be separated from society for longer, but there is still a desperate need for more of these services in women’s prisons. 

Considering the fact that most crimes committed by women are drug related, there should be enough support to help them with possible addictions and relapse. As there are higher rates of substance abuse among women inmates, the rates of depression are also higher. 

Female inmates are more likely to harm themselves than male inmates, according to studies. This includes, but is not limited to, attempting suicide. 

Another important note is that around 60% of female offenders have diseases such as HIV or hepatitis. There should also be more support for living with these illnesses after they return to society.


There are more differences than similarities between male and female prisons, including the accommodation and security level, rates of violence, and rehabilitation services. These are just a few differences, so you can correctly assume that women’s prisons are a completely different world to men’s.