American Sociological Association

Orange Is Still Pink: Mental Illness, Gender Roles, and Physical Victimization in Prisons

Although research has established a very strong relationship between the presence of a psychiatric disorder and victimization in prisons, some gaps remain in our understanding. This study considers the importance of gender differences in this relationship. Estimates based on the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities show that psychiatric disorders have a stronger relationship with victimization among male inmates than among female inmates. Yet the size of the gender difference varies greatly depending on the specific disorder. Depressive disorders have a much stronger relationship with victimization among men than among women, but other disorders, such as psychosis, show no gender difference. Symptom-specific analyses further confirm the nature of the difference. Victimization appears to be based in part on how well symptoms do or do not overlap with traditional gender roles. Male-atypical symptoms (e.g., sadness) have a stronger relationship with victimization among men, whereas female-atypical symptoms (e.g., anger) have a stronger relationship with victimization among women. Gender-neutral symptoms (e.g., hallucinations and delusions) have an equivalent relationship between genders. Further analyses suggest that these gender differences are not explained (with some exceptions) by verbal or physical provocation. These findings are interpreted in light of the literature on the nature of social control in men’s and women’s prisons as well as the literature on stigma.

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Jason Schnittker and Valerio Bacak





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