Psychological well-being of incarcerated women in the Netherlands: Importation or deprivation?

AuthorCandace Kruttschnitt,Barbara Menting,Catrien Bijleveld,Anne-Marie Slotboom
Published date01 April 2011
Date01 April 2011
Subject MatterArticles
Punishment & Society
13(2) 176–197
!The Author(s) 2011
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474510396313
Psychological well-being
of incarcerated women
in the Netherlands:
Importation or
Anne-Marie Slotboom, Candace Kruttschnitt,
Catrien Bijleveld and Barbara Menting
VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands, University of Toronto, Canada, VU University
Amsterdam, the Netherlands and VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands
In light of the dramatic increase over the past decade in the number of women
incarcerated in the Netherlands, we examined 251 female inmates’ psychological
reactions to imprisonment with a survey that taps importation and deprivation factors
and related life experiences. While depressive complaints, irritability and risk of self-
harm were all predicted by both sets of factors, the evidence suggests that depriva-
tion factors have a greater impact on these measures of well-being than importation
factors. Previous treatment for psychological problems was the most important covar-
iate for psychological complaints and post-traumatic stress. The most important
deprivation factors were treatment by staff and other inmates, and environmental
stress. Accordingly, we suggest that in order to further our understanding of
women prisoners’ adaptations to incarceration greater attention should be directed
to women’s conditions of confinement and less to their histories of victimization and
drug abuse.
deprivation theory, female inmates, importation theory, prison adjustment, psycholog-
ical well-being
Corresponding author:
Anne-Marie Slotboom, Department of Criminology, VU University, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HVAmsterdam,
The Netherlands
The growth in imprisonment over the past decades in several western industrialized
nations has generated tremendous scholarly interest, particularly with regard to the
social and political factors that might explain this phenomenon (see, for example,
Tonry, 2007; Tonry and Farrington, 2005). Yet, relatively speaking, scholarly
consideration of the experiences of prison inmates has been lacking. This is espe-
cially true for female prison inmates who in many contexts comprise a dispropor-
tionate share of the overall growth rates in imprisonment (Kruttschnitt and
Gartner, 2003). Here we draw attention to the case of the Netherlands – a country
which historically had one of the lowest imprisonment rates in Europe but one
which now claims the third highest rate, and a country that has witnessed substan-
tially greater growth rates in women’s, relative to men’s, imprisonment (Tonry and
Bijleveld, 2007: 15; Van Gemmert, 2002; Slotboom et al., 2008).
We focus on the
adjustment problems of female prisoners in the Netherlands to help address the
omission in understanding the experiences of imprisonment in a population which
is disproportionately bearing the brunt of this growth.
Prison adjustment: Importation and deprivation
Prisoners’ adjustment to confinement has long been a topic of interest among
sociologists and psychologists. In one of the most important studies of prison
life during the 20th century, Clemmer (1940/1958) introduced the concept of ‘pris-
onization’, or the idea that sentence length is positively related to the adoption of
the norms and values of the prison culture. Despite the popularity of Clemmer’s
approach to studying inmate adjustment, by the 1950s the central paradigm of
penal research shifted to the interactions between inmates and guards and the
characteristics of the prison environment. These characteristics refer to, for exam-
ple, the number of inmates, the staff–inmate ratio, length of sentence, amount of
freedom, the regime and the interaction with other inmates and staff. Known as the
‘deprivation’ model, adjustment to prison life was depicted as the degree to which
inmates could endure the ‘pains of imprisonment’ (Sykes, 1958; Sykes and
Messinger, 1960) such as the lack of worldly possessions, the lack of heterosexual
relationships and the lack of autonomy (Stevens, 1998). Criticism of this model
produced a number of competing paradigms (see Kruttschnitt and Gartner, 2003),
but most notable among these was the importation model (Irwin and Cressey,
1962). The importation model sees the unique characteristics and prior experiences
of prisoners as critical components of prisoners’ adaptations. These characteristics
include demographic and individual factors such as age, ethnicity, education and
income as well as prior detention, offence of conviction and family life.
These paradigms of prison adjustment emerged in what has been referred to as
the ‘golden age of US prison sociology’ (Simon, 2000: 285). Today with the advent
of a ‘post-social’ or ‘new’ penology, which extols the values of management and
risk prediction, the concern has shifted to somewhat different assessments of
Slotboom et al. 177

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