“What purpose is served by subjecting the most disempowered, abused and nonviolent women to the perpetually negative environment of prisons?” asks O’Brien.

The professor argues that women are more likely than men to have children “who rely on them for support,” and that imprisonment does more harm to the individual than good for society.

“The United States is a prison nation,” wrote O’Brien. “The federal government also spends tens of billions to police, prosecute and imprison people, though research demonstrates that incarceration harms individual well-being and does not improve public safety.”

O’Brien says that instead of focusing our efforts on making prison “work” for women, the country should adhere to the British tactic of community sentences or house violent offenders in small custodial centers near their families.