Critical Criminology

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 5–19 | Cite as

Resistance and compliance in women’s prisons: Towards a critique of legitimacy

  • Mary Bosworth


This article explores how power is negotiated in women’s prisons. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in three penal establishments in England, the author analyses the ways by which women negotiate restrictions of imprisonment and the manner in which they attempt to resist institutional control. It is proposed that power is negotiated on a private, internalised level, as women often resist the institution simply by trying to maintain an image of control over their own lives. However, this image of themselves as active, reasoning agents is undermined by institutional constraints that encourage them to exhibit traditional, passive, feminine behaviour at the same time as they deny them their identities and responsibilities as mothers, wives, girlfriends, and sisters. The author concludes that women’s modes of resistance indicate that imprisonment is contested and embattled in ways reflecting broader, social norms of behaviour and identity, and thus, that the ‘legitimacy’ of imprisonment rests, at least in part, upon gender.


Feminist Theory Critical Criminology Female Prisoner Male Prisoner Maximum Security 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© The Division on Critical Criminology 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Bosworth
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CambridgeUK

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