Prison Management of Gender Boundaries, 1941-2018

Joss Greene, Columbia University

Scholars typically study transgender prisoners as“categorical outsiders” in a rigidly gendered institution. Yet, this obscures how the prison’s gender boundaries and responses to boundary violation transform over time. Drawing on archival data and oral histories, the author examines how California prison administrators interpreted and managed femininity in men’s prisons from 1941-2018. Changes in the organization and logic of imprisonment generated four distinct strategies for the regulation of femininity: containment, treatment, risk management, and bureaucratic assimilation. In short, prison administrators interpreted and solved “gender problems” based on the changing penal logics and resources at their disposal. These evolving regulatory regimes created shifting sets of possibility and constraint for feminine prisoners’ self-expression, navigation of prison life, and collective action. This study denaturalizes existing categories for making sense of gender variability, foregrounding the ways that organizational practices give rise to particular ways of defining, regulating, and inhabiting gender non-conformity. This has consequences for our understanding of gender, inequality, and the carceral state.

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 Presented in Session 217. Gender and Law