At least 18 states require that doctors who know about substance use during pregnancy turn their patients in. A woman could be arrested just for being honest with her doctor
A36-year-old Alabama woman is facing felony charges for filling a doctor’s prescription. Kim Blalock, a mother of six, suffers from severe back pain caused by degeneration of her spinal discs. “There are days that I can’t get up,” Blalock has said. Her condition worsened over the years following surgeries and car accidents. An orthopedist prescribed hydrocodone, an opiate pain killer, and she started using it occasionally when the pain became too much to handle. She stopped taking her prescription during her most recent pregnancy, but as her bump grew, the weight added pressure on her back, and the pain worsened. Midway through her third trimester, she couldn’t take it any more, and refilled her prescription. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy soon after, this past September. Out of caution, she told her doctor about medications she had taken during pregnancy – including the hydrocodone. That’s where the trouble started. After her son tested positive for hydrocodone, an investigation was launched. The state child services agency found no wrongdoing, but the local police and district attorney pressed on. Two months after she gave birth, seven armed officers raided her house, terrifying her children.
Blalock is charged with prescription fraud; prosecutors allege that she committed a crime when she failed to inform her prescribing doctor that she was pregnant before refilling her hydrocodone. It’s a novel charge for such a case, but Alabama has a long history of prosecuting pregnant women under a strict reading of a statute against “chemical endangerment of a child”, which classifies substance use during pregnancy as a form of child abuse. Since 2006, when meth labs were appearing across rural communities, Alabama has made it a felony to expose a child to a chemically toxic environment. The law was meant to enforce heavier penalties on people who make drugs around children, exposing them to the vapors that are emitted in the creation of crack and meth. But prosecutors quickly began deploying the law against pregnant women, interpreting a “chemically toxic environment” to mean the pregnant body itself.
And so, in Alabama, women’s bodies became one of the most hotly contested fronts in the “war on drugs”. But drug laws are being used to criminalize pregnant people throughout the US. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have such laws, known as “chemical endangerment of a child” statutes, on the books. Whatever their intent, such laws in practice often enable prosecutors to charge drug use by pregnant women as a felony. Enforcement is not merely a matter of increasing charges and punishments against defendants who happen to be pregnant: at least 18 states legally require that doctors who know about substance use during pregnancy – like Blalock’s obstetrician – turn their patients in. A woman carrying a healthy pregnancy could be turned into the police just for being honest with her own doctor.
Nationwide, the results of such laws have been chilling: California prosecutors charged a woman with murder – via chemical endangerment – after she gave birth to a stillborn infant, claiming that her use of methamphetamine while pregnant was tantamount to homicide. A judge dismissed the charges in May, but did not rule that California’s homicide statutes can’t be used against pregnant women who consume drugs.
But illegal drugs are not the only ones women are being arrested for taking. A shocking number of cases have been brought, both in Alabama and around the country, against women who merely took their medication as prescribed while they happened to be pregnant. After a 2016 investigation found that more than 500 Alabama women had been prosecuted under the state’s chemical endangerment law for filling their prescriptions while pregnant, the state legislature clarified that the law was meant to apply only to recreational drugs, not prescription drugs. Yet Blalock, who merely filled her own prescription, is still being charged for taking her meds. Her prosecution suggests that Alabama authorities are looking for creative ways to limit the rights of pregnant women, regardless of the clearly expressed intent of their own legislature.
For many women, this will be the takeaway: don’t trust the doctor
The case raises troubling questions. Since Blalock is being charged with a felony for not disclosing her pregnancy, does that mean that pregnant people in Alabama have an obligation to share such sensitive information – even when they haven’t been asked? Since prosecutors claim that it was illegal for Blalock to take her meds while pregnant, but was not illegal for her to take them when she wasn’t pregnant, does that suggest that pregnancy negates a patient’s right to medical treatment? Are some conditions worth treating in patients who aren’t pregnant, but somehow not worth treating in patients who are?
And what about the mandatory reporting elements that are included in so many of these statutes – how will this hollowing-out of doctor-patient confidentiality impact health outcomes? It’s hard not to dwell on the realization that if Blalock hadn’t been frank with her doctor, she would have been spared this entire ordeal.
For many women, this will be the takeaway: don’t trust the doctor. When laws incentivize women to be dishonest with their medical providers, or forgo medical care entirely while pregnant, it’s not clear how those laws can be said to ensure the safety of a fetus. If anything, they seem to be discouraging the practices that lead to good pregnancy outcomes.
In the meantime, Blalock is still suffering. “It really has taken its toll,” she said of her felony charge. “I didn’t get to bond with my baby. I’ve had severe postpartum depression with this baby.” If there’s any so-called “child endangerment” in this case, it’s not coming from her.
As violence continues to plague the state’s prisons, new data from the Alabama Department of Corrections shows that the department is rapidly erasing much-needed reductions in the prison population. The prison population declined 3.6 percent last year, but that progress has been almost completely reversed in the first half of this fiscal year as the population rose 3.3 percent (an increase of 890 people) between last October and this April.
Admissions to ADOC custody for the current fiscal year are 9.5 percent higher (8332 people) than the same time last year (7607). And while admissions are climbing, releases have plummeted to 11.4 percent fewer so far this year (7704) than the same time last year (8698).
This dramatic rise in Alabama’s prison population coincides with changes in parole policy last fall. Since October, 37.2 percent fewer people have been paroled (1482 people) than were paroled by the same time last year (2360).
The rise in admissions and increasing limits on parole mean Alabama will experience a growth in the prison population that will add new challenges to the existing crisis in conditions in the state’s prisons. The data also undermines prison officials’ assertions that sentencing reforms are lowering the incarcerated population and easing overcrowding in the state’s prisons.
Alabama’s extraordinary prison homicide rate has already reached new crisis levels this year, with eight homicides in the first six months of 2019. Alabama had 10 homicides in 2018; 11 in 2017; 3 in 2016; and 8 in 2015.
The unprecedented level of violence, including sexual and lethal violence, that has plagued the state’s prisons for the last five years was the subject of a scathing findings letter issued by the Department of Justice this spring, and it has only gotten worse.
Since the Justice Department report was released on April 2, two incarcerated people have been killed in medium-security facilities. Joseph Holloway was serving a 40-year sentence for robbery when he was stabbed to death on June 5, 2019, at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama. Jeremy Bailey was serving a 7-year sentence for a drug conviction when he was stabbed to death 10 days later at Fountain Correctional Facility in Atmore.
Violence at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville has also continued unchecked. During Memorial Day weekend, unconfiscated weapons and drugs, combined with staff failure to regulate prisoner movement, resulted in the stabbing of four men by a single armed and intoxicated incarcerated man. One of the victims was classified as minimum-out custody, had been in prison less than three months, and had repeatedly sought protection, notifying officials in the days before he was attacked that he was at risk in the housing unit and feared for his life.
A powerful body of literature reveals important differences in the reasons underlying men and women’s criminal involvement. The research conducted on women’s specific “pathways” into crime indicates that their experiences of victimization and abuse, poverty, mental illness and substance abuse play a key role.
The US prison system was designed to house a large male population, and is operated by primarily male officers and officials.
Women represent less than 8% of the total US prison population, and their unique risks, strengths and needs are often eclipsed throughout systems lacking in gender responsive practices.
Despite this fact, women are the fastest growing prison population: The number of women in prison grew 800% vs. 400% in the past 30 years.
Justice-Involved Women: United States vs Illinois Trending
The following data was developed for the “The Gender Informed Practice Assessment” Report on Logan Correctional Center.
Disproportionate Histories of Abuse and Trauma
The vast majority of women in prison have experienced interpersonal or sexual violence, with estimates as high as 90%.[i]
Histories of interpersonal violence are prevalent among both men and women in prison, but rates are much higher among women.[ii]
Incarcerated women with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) report a much higher rate of witnessing violence than the female population in general.[iii]
Trauma such as sexual victimization is linked to mental health, substance abuse, and relationship difficulties and contributes to crime pathways for women. Women with histories of abuse and neglect are 77% more likely to be arrested as an adult than their peers who were not abused.[iv]
The correctional environment is full practices that trigger women’s past trauma, including pat downs and strip searches, frequent discipline from authority figures, and restricted movement.[v]
In Illinois, 98% of incarcerated women in state prisons have experienced physical abuse at some point in their lives; 75% experienced sexual abuse and 85% experienced intimate partner stalking and emotional abuse.[vi]
[i] Miller, N. A., & Najavits, L. M. (2012). Creating trauma-information correctional care: A balance of goals and environment. European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
[ii] Baglivio, M. T., Epps, N., Swartz, K., Huq, M. S., Sheer, A., & Hardt, N. S. (2014). The Prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) in the lives of juvenile offenders. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 3(2).
[iii] Hackett, M. (2009). Commentary: Trauma and female inmates: Why is witnessing more traumatic? Journal of the American Academy Psychiatry Law, 37(3), 310–315.
[iv] Widom, C. S. & Kuhns, J.B. (1996). Childhood victimization and subsequent risk for promiscuity, prostitution, and teenage pregnancy: A prospective study. American Journal of Public Health 86 (11): 1607.
[v] Miller, N. A., & Najavits, L. M. (2012). Creating trauma-information correctional care: A balance of goals and environment. European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
[vi] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and help-seeking behaviors among female prisoners in Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
Higher Rates of Reported Mental Illness
Nationally, female inmates report higher rates of mental health problems than male inmates (73% of females versus of 55% of males in state prisons).[i]
Nationally, women in prison have more frequent suicide attempts than male inmates.[ii]
Incarcerated women with a history of trauma and accompanying mental health concerns are more likely to have difficulties with prison adjustment and misconduct.
Justice involved women are more likely to experience co-occurring disorders; in particular, substance abuse problems tend to be interlinked with trauma and/or mental illness. The majority of women who suffer from mental illness also have substance abuse disorders.
Women experience mental illness differently than men; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are all more prevalent in justice-involved women than in men.
The lack of trauma-informed practices and inadequate access to mental health services, combined with the experience of confinement, pose a greater risk of either creating or exacerbating mental health issues among female inmates. Also, correctional policies and procedures – and institutional environments in general – can trigger previous traumatic experiences, exacerbate trauma-related symptoms, and interfere with a woman’s recovery.
In Illinois, the percentage of all incarcerated women on a mental health caseload is 58% compared with 25% of all incarcerated men. Logan Correctional Center, the state’s largest women’s prison, currently houses an estimated 770 women prisoners diagnosed as Seriously Mentally Ill (SMI). In addition, a study of all women incarcerated statewide indicated that an estimated 60% have suffered from PTSD.[iii]
Note: While data regarding the need to address diagnoses of “Serious Mental Illness” among incarcerated women is compelling, it is important for corrections systems to explore their use of the category “Seriously Mentally Ill” and ensure that 1) appropriate clinical criteria are being used and adhered to when identifying someone as SMI, and 2) gender, culture, trauma, oppression and other factors are thoroughly considered so that women are not inappropriately diagnosed.
[i] US Department of Justice. (2006). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates.
[iii] Reichert, J., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Post-traumatic stress disorder and victimization among female prisoners in Illinois.
Disproportionate Involvement of Women of Color
Nationally, African American women are incarcerated at twice the rate of white women, and rates among Hispanic women are 1.2 times higher.[i] These rates perhaps most dramatically impact younger women: A 2012 study revealed that black females ages 18 to 19 were three times more likely to be imprisoned than white females, and Hispanic females in this age group had imprisonment rates nearly twice those of white females.[ii]
In Illinois, most state prison admissions for men and women in general, and particularly those of Color, are from Cook County. A decline in admissions from Cook County between FY2005 and FY2010 resulted in a decrease in the overall proportion of African American women incarcerated in state prisons (from more than 70 percent in the late 1990s to less than 50 percent among the FY2010 female court admissions). Commensurately, the shift resulted in an increase in the proportion of white females from 20% to nearly 50% in that same period, while Hispanic women experienced a slower, more gradual shift from 2-3% in 1989 to 7.8% today.[iii]
In Illinois, while disproportionality has trended downward, African American women still represent 42% of the women’s prison population, while African American citizens represent only 15% of the Illinois population. Conversely, White women represent 51.4% of the women’s prison population and White citizens represent 73.5% of the Illinois population. [iv]
[i] Carson, E.A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
[ii] US Department of Justice. (2013). Prisoners in 2012
[iii] Olson, D., Escobar, G. & Stalans, L. (2011) An Examination of admissions, exits and end-of-the-year populations of adult female inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections, state fiscal years 1989 to 2010. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
[iv] IDOC Offender 360 Report (2016). US Census Data.
Higher Rates of Substance Abuse & Drug Crimes
A large proportion of justice-involved women have abused substances or have engaged in criminal behavior while under the influence and/or to support their drug use.
In a 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics study, over 60% of women reported a drug dependence or abuse problem in the year prior to their incarceration. Moreover, there is evidence indicating that current substance abuse among women is a strong direct predictor of prison readmission.
Substance abuse among justice-involved women may be motivated by a desire to cope with or mask unpleasant emotions stemming from traumatic experiences and ensuing mental health problems.
Nationally, on every measure of drug use, women in state prisons have reported higher usage (40%) than males (32%).[i] In addition, 25% of female prisoners serve time for drug offenses, compared to 15% of male prisoners.[ii]
In Illinois, 85% of women surveyed in state prisons reported periods of regular alcohol and drug use and an average age of onset at 16.3 years old.[iii]
In Illinois, nearly the entire increase in court admissions of women to state prisons from FY1996 to FY2005 that led to the skyrocketing prison population were attributed to low-level, Class 4 felonies for drug and property crimes. Conversely, the dramatic 40% decline in female court admissions from FY2005 to FY2010 was also linked to a reduction in court admissions for primarily the same class of low-level drug crimes.[iv]
[i] US Department of Justice (1999). Women Offenders. Note: This is self-reported data. Actual number of offenders with substance abuse histories is approximately 80 percent (national data).
[ii] US Department of Justice. Prisoners in 2013 (2014).
[iii] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and help-seeking behaviors among female prisoners in Illinois.
[iv] Olson, D., Escobar, G. & Stalans, L. (2011) An Examination of admissions, exits and end-of-the-year populations of adult female inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections, state fiscal years 1989 to 2010. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
More Likely to be the Custodial Parent of their Children
Nationally, more than 60% of women prisoners are parents, and women prisoners are more likely than men to serve as the custodial parent of their children.[i] According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, 77% of mothers in state prison who lived with their children just prior to incarceration provided most of the children’s daily care, compared to 26% of fathers. 88% of incarcerated fathers identified the child’s other parent as the current caregiver, compared to 37% of mothers.”[ii]
The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that Illinois has the 7th highest number of individuals who have experienced parental incarceration during their childhood, totaling 186,000.
Children of incarcerated parents “…display short-term coping responses to deal with their loss, which can develop into long-term emotional and behavioral challenges, such as depression, problems with school, delinquency, and drug use.”[iii] Children of incarcerated mothers in particular are at greater risk of dropping out of school and academic challenges.[iv]
“Preserving a child’s relationship with a parent during incarceration benefits both parties. It also benefits society, reducing children’s mental health issues and anxiety, while lowering recidivism and facilitating parents’ successful return to their communities.”[v]
In Illinois, a snapshot of the women incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center in October 2015 indicated that 71% of them (1,304 out of 1,835) are mothers of a total of 3,700 children.
[ii] Glaze, L. & Maruschak, L. (2008) Parents in prison and their minor children.
[iii] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Keyes, K., Hamilton, A., Uddin, M., & Galea, S. (2015). e collateral damage of mass incarceration: Risk of psychiatric morbidity among nonincarcerated residents of high-incarceration neighbor- hoods. American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), 138–143. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/25393200
[iv] Dallaire, D. H. (2007, December). Children with incarcerated mothers: Developmental outcomes, special challenges, and recommendations. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 28(1), 15–24.
[v] Annie E Casey Foundation (April 2016) “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families & Communities; La Vigne, N. G., Davies, E., & Brazzell, D. (2008, February 12). Family and recidivism. AMERICAN Jails, 17–24. Retrieved from www.vera.org/ les/the- family-and-recidivism.pdf.; The Osborne Association. (2012, May).
Higher Rates of Poverty & Unemployment
Economic hardship, lower educational attainment, fewer vocational skills, underemployment, and employment instability are more common among justice-involved women. These factors are particularly problematic when considering that women are more likely to have child-rearing responsibilities, particularly as single mothers.
Compared to men, it is more difficult for justice-involved women to obtain and maintain legitimate and well-paying employment that will meet their family’s needs, both before and following incarceration. Research has indicated that programming designed to enhance women’s educational/vocational skills are effective in reducing their risk of recidivism.
Nationally, women report greater levels of poverty than men and less employment history immediately preceding incarceration. In addition, those seeking affordable housing and reunification face considerably greater challenges. [i]
A study of the Women’s Prison Association found that 60% of women reported that they were not employed full-time at the time of their arrest (compared to 40% of men) and 37% of women had incomes of under $600 in the month leading to their arrest (compared with 28% of men).[ii]
A study conducted by the Urban Institute regarding prisoner reentry suggested greater challenges for formerly incarcerated women seeking employment. A sample allowed comparisons of the statistical differences between male and females in several states, and indicated 61% of males were employed post release vs 37% of women.[iii]
In Illinois, 43.8% of women at Logan Correctional Center, the state’s largest prison, do not have a high school diploma or GED; and one study indicated that approximately 58% of women in Illinois prisons were employed either full- or part-time at the time of their incarceration.[iv]
[iv] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and Help-Seeking Behaviors Among Female Prisoners In Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
Lower Public Safety Risk, Yet Fastest Growing Criminal Justice System Population Nationwide
Justice-involved women are less likely than men to have extensive criminal histories.
Women typically enter the criminal justice system for non-violent crimes that are often drug-related and/or driven by poverty. Nationally, women in state prisons are more likely to be incarcerated for a drug or property offense than a violent crime: 24% of women have been convicted of a drug offense, compared to 15% of men; 28% of women have been convicted of a property crime, compared to 19% of men; and 37% of women have been convicted of a violent offense, compared to 54% of men.[i]
The nature and context of violent crime committed by women frequently differs from that observed in men. When women commit aggressive acts, they typically involve assaults of lesser severity that are reactive or defensive in nature, rather than calculated or premeditated. Compared with men who tend to target strangers and acquaintances, violent acts committed by women occur primarily in domestic or school settings, and are more likely targeted at family members and/or intimates.
Women released from incarceration have lower recidivism rates than their male counterparts. This holds true for rearrests, reconvictions, and returns to prison with or without new prison sentences. Moreover, for the small proportion of women who are incarcerated for violent crimes, most do not reoffend with another violent crime.
Within prisons, incidents of violence and aggression committed by women are extremely low. Studies indicate that incarcerated women are five times less likely than men to commit such acts – 3-5% of women compared to 17-19% of men.
Despite women’s lower level crimes, arrest data from 2010 reveal that the number of female arrests in the United States increased by 11.4% from the preceding decade; this increase is in contrast to a 5% decline for male arrests. During the same time period, the number of women incarcerated in federal and state correctional facilities increased by 22%. Women now constitute one-fourth of the probation and parole population, representing a 10% increase over the past decade.
In Illinois, 34% of women in state prisons are incarcerated for a violent offense, compared with 43% of male inmates. Women are also more likely to be incarcerated for a drug crime (29% vs 21%) or a property crime (30% vs 19%).[ii]
By Aleks Kajstura October 19, 2017 and originally published here
With growing public attention to the problem of mass incarceration, people want to know about women’s experience with incarceration. How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? And why are they there? While these are important questions, finding those answers requires not only disentangling the country’s decentralized and overlapping criminal justice systems, but also unearthing the frustratingly hard to find and often altogether missing data on gender.
This report provides a first-of-its-kind detailed view of the 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States, and how they fit into the even larger picture of correctional control. Since 2014, the Prison Policy Initiative has quantified the number of people incarcerated in the United States, and calculated the breakdown of people held by each correctional system by offense in an annual Whole Pie: Mass Incarceration report. This report, done in collaboration with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, finally provides similar data on women incarcerated in the Unites States. We break the data down to show the various correctional systems that control women, and to examine why women in the various systems of confinement are locked up:
In stark contrast to the total incarcerated population, where the state prison systems hold twice as many people as are held in jails, incarcerated women are nearly evenly split between state prisons and local jails.
The explanation for exactly what happened, when, and why does not yet exist because the data on women has long been obscured by the larger picture of men’s incarceration. The disaggregated numbers presented here are an important first step to ensuring that women are not left behind in the effort to end mass incarceration.
Women are disproportionately stuck in jails
A staggering number of women who are incarcerated are not even convicted: more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.
Avoiding pre-trial incarceration is uniquely challenging for women. The number of unconvicted women stuck in jail is surely not because courts are considering women, who are generally the primary caregivers of children, to be a flight risk. The far more likely answer is that incarcerated women, who have lower incomes than incarcerated men, have an even harder time affording cash bail. A previous study found that women who could not make bail had an annual median income of just $11,071. And among those women, Black women had a median annual income of only $9,083 (just 20% that of a white non-incarcerated man). When the typical $10,000 bail amounts to a full year’s income, it’s no wonder that women are stuck in jail awaiting trial.
Even once convicted, the system funnels women into jails: About a quarter of convicted incarcerated women are held in jails, compared to about 10% of all people incarcerated with a conviction.
So what does it mean that large numbers of women are held in jail – for them, and for their families? While stays in jail are generally shorter than in stays in prison, jails make it harder to stay in touch with family than prisons do. Phone calls are more expensive, up to $1.50 per minute, and other forms of communication are more restricted – some jails don’t even allow real letters, limiting mail to postcards. This is especially troubling given that 80% of women in jails are mothers, and most of them are primary caretakers of their children. Thus children are particularly susceptible to the domino effect of burdens placed on incarcerated women.
Women in jails are also more likely to suffer from mental health problems and experience serious psychological distress than either women in prisons or men in either correctional setting.
Ending mass incarceration requires looking at all offenses
The numbers revealed by this report enable a national conversation about the policies that impact incarcerated women held in various facilities, and also serve as the foundation for discussions to change the policies that lead to incarcerating women in the first place.
All too often, the conversation about criminal justice reform starts and stops with the question of non-violent drug and property offenses. While drug and property offenses make up more than half of the offenses for which women are incarcerated, the chart reveals that all offenses, including violent offenses that account for roughly a quarter of all incarcerated women, must be considered in the effort to reduce the number of incarcerated women in this country. This new data on women underlines the need for reform discussions to focus not just on the easier choices but on choices that can lead to impactful policy changes.
The tentacles of mass incarceration have a long reach
Even the “Whole Pie” of incarceration above represents just one small portion (16%) of the women under correctional supervision. Again, this is in stark contrast to the general incarcerated population (mostly men), where a full third of those under correctional control are in prisons and jails.
The picture of women’s incarceration is far from complete, and many questions remain about mass incarceration’s unique impact on women. Based on our analysis in this report we know that a quarter of incarcerated women are unconvicted. But is that number growing? And how does that undue incarceration load intersect with women’s disproportionate caregiving burdens to impact families? Beyond these big picture questions there are a plethora of detailed data points that are not reported for women by any government agencies, such as the simple number of women incarcerated in U.S. Territories.
While more data is needed, the data in this report lends focus and perspective to the policy changes needed to end mass incarceration without leaving women behind.
Read about the data
This briefing uses the most recent data available on the number of people in various types of facilities and the most significant charge or conviction. Because not all types of data are collected each year, we sometimes had to combine differing data sets; for example, we applied the percentage distribution of offense types from the previous year to the current year’s total count data. To smooth out these differing levels of vintage and precision among the sources, we choose to round all figures in the graphic. This process may, however, result in various parts not adding up precisely to the total.
Federal: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2015, Table 10, reports percentage breakdown of offense types for the convicted population as of September 30, 2015, and the total population of women reported in Table 2, for December 31, 2015. We did not attempt to separate out convicted and unconvicted from the federal slice of the pie and instead proportionally applied the offenses for the convicted population to the unconvicted population.
State Prisons:Prisoners in 2015, Table 2 provides the gender breakdown for the total population as of December 31st, 2015, and Table 9 provides data (as of December 31, 2014) that we used to calculate the ratio of different offense types.
Military: The latest gender breakdown we could find was in Correctional Populations in the United States, 1998, Table 8.5, which reported the number of prisoners under military jurisdiction, by officer and enlisted status, gender, race, and Hispanic origin, for December 31, 1998. We calculated the number of women for our military slice by imputing the percentages from 1998 to the numbers reported in Prisoners in 2015, Appendix Table 7, which gives the number of people incarcerated in by each branch of the military, but does not provide a gender breakdown.
Territorial Prisons (correctional facilities in the U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and U.S. Commonwealths of Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico): Calculated based on World Prison Brief data reporting the most recent data available, ranging from 2007 (Northern Mariana Islands) to 2015 (Puerto Rico).
Civil Commitment (At least 20 states and the federal government operate facilities for the purposes of detaining people convicted of sexual crimes after their sentences are complete. These facilities and the confinement there are technically civil, but in reality are quite like prisons. People under civil commitment are held in custody continuously from the time they start serving their sentence at a correctional facility through their confinement in the civil facility.): The Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network conducts an annual survey, and the civil commitment data came from an email with SOCCPN President Shan Jumper on May 11, 2017, estimating that there were 6 or 7 women total, nationally (based on the SOCCPN 2016 Annual Survey). And according to the Common Questions about Civil Commitment as a Sexually Violent Person (Adopted by the ATSA and the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network Executive Boards of Directors on October 13, 2015), there are “a few women throughout the country who have been committed.”
Indian Country (correctional facilities operated by tribal authorities or the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs): Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Jails in Indian Country, 2015, Table 5, reporting data for midyear, 2015.
Probation and Parole: Our counts of women incarcerated and under community supervision are from Correctional Populations in the United States, 2015, Appendix Table 3, reporting data for December 31, 2015. In order to break out community supervision between Probation and Parole, we used Probation and Parole in the United States, 2015 for the percentage of women in the Parole and Probation population. (Table 6 for Parole and Table 4 for Probation) and applied that ratio to the totals reported in CSAT (these numbers are the numbers that appear, rounded, in table 1 of CPUS). We then adjusted those numbers to ensure that people with multiple statuses were counted only once in their most restrictive category. (Because gender-specific data on people with more than one correctional status was not available, we reduced the number of women on probation and on parole by the ratio (3.54% for parole and 1.64% for probation) we used for Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017). For readers interested in knowing the total number of people on parole and probation, ignoring any double-counting with other forms of correctional control, there are 113,200 women on parole and 947,400 women on probation.
Several data definitions and clarifications may be helpful to researchers reusing this data in new ways:
To avoid double-counting women held in local jails on behalf of the Bureau of Prisons, ICE, U.S. Marshals Service, state, and other prison authorities from being counted twice, we removed the 7,763 women from the jail population reported by the BJS and from the numbers we used to calculate the number of convicted women in local jails. Our calculation for the number of women held in such arrangements was based on data reported for the total number of people held in jails for federal and state authorities in Appendix Table 2 of Prisoners in 2015, and total number of people held in jails for ICE, from page 7 of Report of the Subcommittee on Privatized Immigration Detention Facilities, December 1, 2016, by the Homeland Security Advisory Council and the 2002 Survey Of Inmates In Local Jails, 2002, where our analysis showed that about 8.5% of those held in such arrangements were women.
Because we removed ICE detainees and people under the jurisdiction of federal and state authorities from the jail population, we had to recalculate the offense distribution reported in Survey Of Inmates In Local Jails, 2002 who were “convicted” or “not convicted” without the people who reported that they were being held on behalf of state authorities, the Federal Bureau of Prisons or U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Our definition of “convicted” was those who reported that they were “To serve a sentence in this jail,” “To await sentencing for an offense,” or “To await transfer to serve a sentence somewhere else”. Our definition of not convicted was “To stand trial for an offense,” “To await arraignment,” or “To await a hearing for revocation of probation/parole or community release”.
We also accounted for women held in federal pre-trial detention who are confined in facilities other than federal and state prisons. We found 1,536 women held by, or for, the U.S. Marshals Service. Census of Jails: Population Changes, 1999-2013 Table 13 reports that 848 women are in Federal Bureau of Prisons detention centers and we estimate that another 688 are in private facilities contracted out to the U.S. Marshals Service. We included these 1,536 women total in the Federal Prisons slice of the pie.
Additionally, a significant portion of the jail population is not in fact under local jurisdiction, but is in a local jail under contract with the U.S. Marshals Service. This population, which in 2013 was 26,176 for both men and women consists of both people who are awaiting trial, and those who are convicted but have not yet been sentenced, so they appear in both the convicted and unconvicted local jail slices. This is part of why, for example, our total pie chart shows 1,000 people “serving” sentences in jails for murder when murder is typically an offense that warrants much longer sentences than would be served in a jail. We have not yet developed a way to separately identify and describe this population, let alone disentangle which portion of the reported numbers is women. (Similarly, in 2013, the Marshals Service had about 10,000 people – mostly in states that do not have separate jail systems – in state prisons for the same reasons.) We hope to, in future versions of this report, develop more detailed ways to display and describe this population.
Lastly, the youth slice does not include 333 girls held in adult jails and prisons. There are 300 girls under the age of 17 held in local jails (calculated by comparing the adult female and total female population reported in Table 3 of Bureau of Justice Statistics Jail Inmates in 2015 [https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ji15.pdf]), and 33 girls under the age of 18 held in state or federal prisons (as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics Quick Table, Reported number of inmates under age 18 held in custody in federal or state prisons [XLS], December 31, 2000-2015).
Separately, note that we did not include a breakdown of the slices by race or ethnicity, because that data does not exist. All together, however, incarcerated women are 53% White, 28.6% Black, 14.2% Hispanic, 2.5% American Indian and Alaskan Native, 0.9% Asian, and 0.4% Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander.
This report was made possible by the partnership of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice, the support of the Public Welfare Foundation, and all of the donors, researchers, programmers and designers who helped the Prison Policy Initiative develop the Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie series of reports.
The ACLU wishes to thank John Cutler, Udi Ofer, and Adina Ellis for their assistance with this report.
The non-profit non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative was founded in 2001 to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization and spark advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. The organization is most well-known for its big-picture publication Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie that helps the public more fully engage in criminal justice reform.
About the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice
The ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to cut the nation’s jail and prison populations by 50% and challenge racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The Campaign is building movements in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America.
After almost 2 years of being ran by a tyrannical Captain, The Alabama Department of Corrections has announced the appointment of a new warden at the Montgomery Women’s Facility.
Adrienne Givens, the new Warden at Montgomery Women’s Facility. Photo Credit WSFA 12 News
Adrienne Givens has been appointed to the warden position of the facility, located behind Kilby men’s prison, out of sight from the public and very much out of mind.
According to the ADOC, Givens began her career with ADOC in 1993 as a correctional officer at Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest.
During her time with ADOC, Givens rose through the ranks earning promotions to sergeant, lieutenant, captain and then to warden in 2016.
Deputy Commissioner for Women’s Services Wendy Williams said, “Warden Givens is a proven leader and her many years of experience and training has prepared her to oversee the daily operations of the work release center,”, “I know she will bring to the position the highest level of leadership and professionalism expected of her.”
Prior to this appointment, Givens was serving as assistant warden at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.
The Montgomery Women’s Facility warehouses approximately 300 inmates in a metal building with no air conditioning. Custody levels range from Medium, down to the lowest, which when obtained enables inmates to be able to go to work. Once working, ADOC charges them daily for the van rides to and from their place of work, it charges for having their uniform and bedding cleaned in the facilities laundry, and they take approximately 40% of any pay check of course, fines and restitution are also deducted.
Montgomery Women’s Facility and is one of Alabama’s three facilities that hold women. ADOC’s sugarcoated description of the facility reads: Inmates who are nearing the end of their sentence, or parole date, can prepare for their transition back into the community by obtaining paid employment before their release.
Most inmates work menial jobs and earn no more than a couple of dollars per day.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is in the midst of an ongoing staffing crisis, with a critical shortage of corrections officers with an overall staffing level of around 53 percent, in one of the most neglected and over crowded and therefore most dangerous prison systems in the entire United States.
It is widely accepted that women commit crimes for very different reasons than men do. In the Alabama prison system, male inmates outnumber women inmates by a ratio of approximately 12-1 and it is statistically accurate to say that women are far less likely to re-offend upon release, even the so called women violent offenders.
It would therefore be prudent for ADOC and The Alabama board of Pardons and Paroles to work together to hasten the release of these women that have already served substantial sentences of incarceration, especially those women that have an unblemished institutional record, that have stayed drug free and turned themselves around with very little if any rehabilitative instruction from ADOC and that deserve a second chance of leading a productive life without any increased risk to the public.
This reduction in female inmates would greatly help in alleviating some of the pressure on an over burdened, abusive, politicised and dangerous system that is being investigated state wide by the Department of Justice and subject to several ongoing lawsuits by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the Equal Justice Initiative amongst others.
Several inmates that we’ve spoken to have expressed disbelief at the appointment of Warden Givens, Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
There are more innocent people in our jails and prisons today than ever before. While the rate of exonerations has been increasingly dramatically for several years, and a record 149 people were exonerated in 2015, experts observe that, “ by any reasonable accounting, there are tens of thousands of false convictions each year across the country, and many more that have accumulated over the decades.”
Since 1989, 337 people have been exonerated through DNA evidence, revealing a system replete with defects that have led to tens of thousands of wrongful convictions. Leading causes of wrongful convictions include mistaken eyewitness identifications, false or misleading forensic science, false confessions, and jailhouse informants. Perjury or false accusations have contributed to more than half of wrongful convictions, and nearly half involve misconduct by government officials.
Exonerations continue to expose as junk science a number of forensic techniques—such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis, and shoe print comparisons—that have never been scientifically evaluated or validated. Negligent or corrupt forensic laboratories have been exposed for improperly conducting tests, inaccurately conveying results in trial testimony, and fabricating results. In 2015, EJI won the exoneration and release of Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row after being wrongfully convicted of capital murder based on a faulty bullet match, and Beniah Dandridge, who spent 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted based on a faulty fingerprint match.
The indigent defense crisis undermines the reliability of convictions; overworked, underfunded defense lawyers lack the resources to vigorously test the prosecution’s evidence at trial. Children and people with mental disabilities are especially vulnerable. EJI won the release of Diane Tucker, an intellectually disabled woman wrongfully convicted of murdering an infant, after obtaining medical evidence that proved the baby never existed. Jurisdictions do not uniformly preserve evidence or provide access to forensic testing that could prove an incarcerated person’s innocence, and even when incarcerated people manage to obtain evidence that proves innocence, prosecutors and law enforcement often refuse to re-examine the evidence or re-open the case. Some prosecutors have formed Conviction Integrity Units to prevent, identify, and correct false convictions, but only 24 of these units existed in 2015, and of those, half have not secured a single exoneration.
Alabama’s criminal justice system is in crisis. Mass incarceration, severe prison overcrowding, budget-busting costs and unfair sentencing have created conditions and practices that threaten the state’s resources and basic human rights. Alabama’s criminal justice system has marginalized thousands of residents and devastated many poor and minority communities while failing to improve public safety in any appreciable way. Many criminal justice policies have contributed to endemic hopelessness and dysfunctional and criminal behavior and have proven to be very ineffective.
The costs of many criminal justice policies have additionally created a fiscal crisis. Education spending and state planning and development have been undermined by out-ofcontrol prison costs and financial demands generated by sentencing policies and misguided practices.
These problems have been fostered by a lack of information and critical analysis and shielded by a legal and political culture that is fearful of sensible reform unless it appears “tough on crime.” This report provides a critical assessment of many criminal justice issues in the hope that more informed debate, dialogue and decision-making can take place in Alabama.
This report addresses sentencing, probation, prison conditions and parole in Alabama. Alabama’s sentencing laws, ineffective use of probation, unregulated and politicized parole procedures and an underfunded prison system have conspired to create one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The consequences are devastating for poor people and people of color as well as Alabama’s economic, social and political health. Alabama’s political and legal culture allows politicians to use prisons and punishment to manage social and health care problems. This ill-advised approach has resulted in record deficits and a fiscal crisis that creates both a serious threat to public welfare and an opportunity for significant reform.
Not one of Alabama’s 15 state prisons has a functional fire alarm system, according to Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, who spoke to lawmakers earlier this week about overcrowding inside state correctional facilities.
“It’s pervasive in our system … that we have deficiencies in our fire alarm systems,” said Dunn. “So what we do, we have corrections officers posted throughout and if there’s an issue, we do it through a verbal system. Obviously, we have procedures if we have a fire to evacuate either portions or all of the facility but the aural fire alarms, we have deficiencies around the state.”
The revelation comes during a trying time for the state’s prisons. The system is at approximately 180 percent of capacity while the number of correctional officers required is dangerously low, according to previous AL.com reporting.
In 2016, Governor Robert Bentley put forth what’s known as the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative (APTI), a plan to build four mega prisons at a cost of $800 million. While the initiative passed through both the House and the Senate, it did not gain final approval. In the coming session this year it’s expected that Bentley will raise the issue again with some amendments to help it pass.
Dunn conceded that other problems did exist in terms of infrastructure and health and safety. “I think the salient point is that (failing fire alarms are) just one of a dozen things that we face,” Dunn said. “While I don’t disagree about the fire system, you’ve got problems with electrical, you’ve got problems with plumbing, you’ve got problems all over that need to be addressed.”
Several complaints have been made since raw sewage started backing up and flooding the bathroom floors in as many months. The Officers make the women contain the flow of effluent by placing blankets and towels under the doors. They are then made to fish out any large foreign objects like sanitary towels, from the toilet bowel by hand.
It is often days before an external contractor is called to attend and remedy the problem. Apart from the obvious health risks associated with raw sewage, flies plague the bathroom whilst the women are trying to wash and brush their teeth, having flies landing on their person and their belongings.
This is clearly a severe health risk and wrong on so many levels. If your loved one reports to you that the sewage is over flowing again, and the Officers response is indifference, please contact the Alabama Department of Public Health via this form immediately. Also, you may want you can contact Carla Ward on 205.244.2001 email USAALN.CivilRights@usdoj.gov she is a member the Department of Justice team that is investigating the appalling conditions in Alabama prisons.