Women and the Criminal Justice System

Over the past 30 years, the number of women and girls caught in the criminal justice system has skyrocketed. Many have been swept up in the War on Drugs and subject to increasingly punitive sentencing policies for nonviolent offenders. There are now more than 200,000 women behind bars and more than one million on probation and parole.

Many of these women struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, and histories of physical and sexual abuse. Few get the services they need. The toll on women, girls, and their families is devastating.

Furthermore, the overincarceration and overconviction of women has devastating effects on them and their families because of the barriers women face as a result of their criminal records. These barriers include employment discrimination (compounded by the trend among employers of conducting background checks), exclusions from certain occupations (including some traditionally dominated by low-income women, such as home health care and childcare), exclusions from housing, and bans on receiving public assistance.

The ACLU is working to reduce the overincarceration of women and girls, ensure equal rights and dignity while in confinement, and eliminate barriers imposed as a result of having a criminal record.

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