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Mean Lives, Mean Laws

Oklahoma's Women Prisoners
Susan F. Sharp (Author)
210 pages, 2 figures, 6 x 9
Paper, September 2014 $25.95   ADD TO CART
Cloth, September 2014 $75.00   ADD TO CART
Web PDF, September 2014 $25.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
epub, September 2014 $25.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
Series: Critical Issues in Crime and Society
Subject Area:
Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Law, Women's Studies


 Oklahoma has long held the dubious honor of having the highest female incarceration rate in the country, nearly twice the national average. In this compelling new book, sociologist Susan Sharp sets out to discover just what has gone so wrong in the state of Oklahoma—and what that might tell us about trends in female incarceration nationwide.

The culmination of over a decade of original research, Mean Lives, Mean Laws exposes a Kafkaesque criminal justice system, one that has no problem with treating women as collateral damage in the War on Drugs or with stripping female prisoners of their parental rights. Yet it also reveals the individual histories of women who were jailed in Oklahoma, providing intimate portraits of their lives before, during, and after their imprisonment. We witness the impoverished and abusive conditions in which many of these women were raised; we get a vivid portrait of their everyday lives behind bars; and we glimpse the struggles that lead many ex-convicts to fall back into the penal system.

Through an innovative methodology that combines statistical rigor with extensive personal interviews, Sharp shows how female incarceration affects not only individuals, but also families and communities. Putting a human face on a growing social problem, Mean Lives, Mean Laws raises important questions about both the state of Oklahoma and the state of the nation.


"Sharp is a leading expert on women in prison and she continues her record of outstanding scholarship with this work. Mean Lives, Mean Laws will make a much needed contribution to policy studies of criminology and criminal justice." 
—Barbara Owen, author of In the Mix: Struggle and Survival in a Women's Prison

"No one is better poised to write a scholarly book on incarcerated women and no state is more appropriate to study than Oklahoma. Mean Lives, Mean Laws is historically, theoretically, and methodologically remarkable. But even more importantly, the self-reported rates and words of real incarcerated women about their harsh lives before, in, after, and sometimes upon re-entry to prison are powerful testimonies to how the U.S. system is fundamentally flawed in responding to women and girls as victims and offenders."
—Joanne Belknap, author of The Invisible Woman: Gender, Crime, and Justice

"Sharp truly cares about incarcerated women and has devoted her life to convincing state bureaucrats to reform the ways they are treated in Oklahoma, possibly the most conservative state in the union and definitely the one with the highest rate of female incarceration."
—Women's Review of Books

Author / Editor Bio

SUSAN F. SHARP is the David Ross Boyd Professor of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma. Co-Chair of the Oklahoma Legislative Task Force on Children of Incarcerated Parents, she has written over thirty articles, as well as the book Hidden Victims: Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused (Rutgers University Press, 2005).


Juanita Ortiz

Table Of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 Mean Lives: A Theoretical Framework
2 Mean Laws: The Rise in Female Imprisonment
3 Mean Women or Mean Lives? Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Abuse of Women Prisoners
4 The Prison Experience
5 Going Back Again by Juanita Ortiz
6 Coming Home and Staying Out
7 The Children and Their Caregivers
8 Winds of Change
9 Lessons Learned and Moving Forward
Appendix A Research Methods
Appendix B Oklahoma Children of Incarcerated Parents


Modern Motherhood
Jodi Vandenberg-Daves
Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susa
Ann D. Gordon
Something Old, Something Bold
Beth Montemurro
When Sex Changed
Layne Parish Craig