Punished in Plain Sight: Women's Experiences on Probation

Awarded Scholars:
Rachel Ellis, University of Maryland, College Park
Project Date:
Mar 2021
Award Amount:

Popular notions of U.S. criminal justice invoke prison gates and razor wire. Yet over half of the total correctional population—3.7 million Americans—live under community supervision on probation. 73 percent of all justice-involved women are serving a probation sentence. Despite being the single most common form of punishment, we know little about the lived experiences of women on probation. Often dismissed as a slap on the wrist, the limited scholarship tells us that probation is deeply punitive and hinders opportunities for mobility, especially among poor women and women of color. Drawing on 55 interviews (15 probation officers, 40 women on probation) and six sets of intensive observations, this study highlights the daily hardships associated with living under community surveillance, as they relate to race, class, and motherhood. Theoretically, this study examines state control and gendered surveillance, examining how punishment exacerbates instability among some of society’s most vulnerable.


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