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Women on Parole: Understanding the Impact of Surveillance

NCJ Number
Women & Criminal Justice Volume: 19 Issue: 4 Dated: October-December 2009 Pages: 306-328
Tara D. Opsal
Date Published
October 2009
23 pages

Based on qualitative interviews, this study examined 43 women parolees' perceptions of the purpose of their parole period.


The vast majority of these women viewed their parole as a period of surveillance and monitoring intended to ensure that they did not engage in any criminal activity or technical violations. Most of the women reported experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety about losing their freedom because of a detected violation of the terms of their parole. Some may argue that this fear of losing freedom is an effective deterrence against their reoffending. Some women expressed this view in reporting that parole helped them by providing a structure and guidance that kept them law-abiding. One woman said, "I don't want too much freedom, because too much freedom is not good." For women with this view, parole provides boundaries and rules accompanied by a consciousness of surveillance that structures their behavior habit. Women with this view of parole tended to be African-Americans with long drug-addiction histories. Because the existing literature on female offenders provides evidence that women are more likely than male offenders to use illegal drugs, women are disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of parole conditions that focus on tightly monitoring drug use. This may be particularly important in the absence of drug programs that provide training in the development of personal skills for coping with the features of independent living that may precipitate drug use. The negative aspect of relying on tight parole monitoring to prevent drug use is that when the parole period is over women with drug-use histories have not developed the personal skills and coping strategies for managing their lives without an enforced structure. 1 table, 5 notes, and 46 references