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.
In the American criminal justice system, wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. Indigent people are unfairly disadvantaged at every step in a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.
In many jurisdictions in the United States, people who are arrested and do not have money to pay bail are jailed while awaiting trial. While some people are denied bail because they are at risk of flight or illegal activity, most are detained solely because they are too poor to pay bail. Pretrial detention interferes with employment, payment of bills, and care giving, and can inflict extraordinary psychological damage. Even for minor offenses, people who are detained pretrial are more likely to be incarcerated and more likely to receive a longer sentence.
Defendants facing a felony charge, those charged with misdemeanors who could be jailed, convicted defendants filing a first appeal, and juveniles charged with delinquency all have a constitutional right to counsel, but poor people in most jurisdictions do not get adequate legal representation. Only 24 states have public defender systems, and even the best of those are hampered by lack of funding and crippling case loads. Defendants too poor to post bail can spend months in jail waiting for a lawyer to be appointed. Many poor people charged with misdemeanors appear in court hearings without a lawyer, where they must make the untenable choice of pleading guilty and being released (burdened by fines, court costs, and other collateral consequences of a criminal conviction that they cannot afford) or remaining in jail indefinitely waiting for a lawyer. Indigent defense in America is so bad that the nation’s top prosecutor, then-Attorney General Eric Holder, declared it is “in a state of crisis.”
It is illegal to imprison people because they are too poor to pay a fine, but shocking numbers of poor people have been jailed for being unable to pay fines and fees incurred for minor infractions and misdemeanors. Courts have contracted with for-profit, private probation companies to collect fines from people on probation. The companies tack on their own fees, often $80-100 a month, which escalate if not immediately paid. Private probation companies profit from requiring probationers to pay for drug treatment, electronic monitoring, and myriad other services they are required to participate in as a condition of their supervision. Impoverished people with fines of a few hundred dollars can end up owing thousands, and if they cannot pay, their probation is revoked and they are jailed.
Jurisdictions in nearly every state impose “pay-to-stay” fees on incarcerated people for everything from medical costs to food and clothing. In the last few decades, additional fees have proliferated, including charges for police transport, case filing, felony surcharges, electronic monitoring, drug testing, and sex offender registration. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia allow fees to be charged for using a public defender. A defendant can emerge from the system owing thousands of dollars in fees.
People leaving prison face huge obstacles to obtaining employment, housing, and other social services; those convicted of felony drug offenses may be barred from receiving federal housing and cash assistance and food stamps. Many also are burdened by staggering child support arrears, drug and alcohol testing fees, parole supervision fees and fees for drug treatment and other programs that are conditions of their parole.
Barbara Owen 25th May 2017 Article originally published here
Prisons – by definition – are secure institutions. Shifting philosophies of punishment underpin approaches to security and safety. The mobility, behaviour and activities of those imprisoned are controlled by carceral architecture and structured schedules with policy, practice and personnel reinforcing the custodial demands of imprisonment. Such procedures are designed to prevent escapes and maintain ‘control’ and ‘order’ through security and discipline. My experience in women’s prisons has led me to question this dynamic for imprisoned women: does security create safety? Are women safe while imprisoned? Does security itself create gendered harms of imprisonment?
In the last decade, my work has focused on these questions through two long-term projects. First, I was more than fortunate to be invited to work with the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), a partner of PRI, in addressing the global issues of women in prison. Thailand, through the support of Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha, has led this charge by supporting the development of and implementing the Bangkok Rules, soft laws that offer guidance on human rights protections for women in prison (see PRI’s extensive resources on the Bangkok Rules). Second, I have explored the dimensions of gendered safety in American women’s prisons and jails with James Wells and Joycelyn Pollock through extensive interview, focus group and survey research. These experiences have steered me to question the wide gulf between security and safety – particularly as experienced by women prisoners.
As Dana Britton argues, prisons are deeply gendered organisations. In our book, In Search of Safety: Confronting inequality in women’s imprisonment, we build on this insight to examine the harms embedded in the contemporary prison and how these harms impact women differently than men. In documenting women’s experience with imprisonment, we frame these threats to women’s safety as ‘gendered harm’ in two ways. First, and most common, is the idea that harm is damage or injury to a person through overt actions or practice. Clearly, forms of physical and sexual violence against women in custody fit this view. Operational practice grounded in the need for physical security has also been shown to harm imprisoned women. The daily round in prison is often detrimental to women’s well-being, particularly for women with trauma symptoms or other mental health conditions.
Second, we also see gendered harm in terms of the inability or unwillingness to meet women’s pathway needs. Such needs are often unmet inside prison, when they fail to acknowledge the gender-based realities that shape women’s pathways to prison. Such neglect is common in women’s prisons throughout the world. There are overlapping themes relevant to women offenders: providing for their safety, rehabilitation and social reintegration while in custody, requiring that programmes and services address their gender-based needs in terms of health care (including pregnancy), mental health and other therapeutic needs; and recognising their histories as survivors of interpersonal violence, and their caring responsibilities for children. Women’s prisons may be secure but, we ask, are they safe?
We claim these harms are unnecessary and constitute gendered human rights violations. The challenges to safety and well-being of women prisoners are not only problems in America’s prisons. Globally, women in prison face many forms of discrimination and other consequences of gender inequality, reproducing the harms identical to those we find in U.S. prisons.
There are two practical solutions to this unnecessary suffering: expanding the concept of security to include multiple forms of gendered safety, and implementing the human rights protections outlined in the Bangkok Rules.
In the middle of a major breakdown…while attempting to quit smoking…I was trying to hear the voice of God…I wanted to hear “I love you”…Instead i hear the laughter of demons, taunting me…telling me that i am not loved…I am alone, I am forgotten…God is not real…look around…These women have been crying out to him for years…decades…Do you truly believe he’ll come to rescue you?
He has yet to answer their call for help…You are ugly, unwanted, stupid, evil and poor…You are lower than any bit of scum on the earth. When the Officer yelled at me, I snapped…Instantly…I went back to hiding behind the couch…watching my dad scream at my mom and choke her, mercilessly…I tried to isolate myself to prevent this from happening…I tried to free my mind from the demons that held it hostage…I tried to rid myself of the memories of my dead best friend and her brutal murder…
I tried to lift myself out of depression caused by hearing my little sisters call for help…She’s homeless with a 7 year old and a 2 week old baby…She’s also trying to heal from the abuse from her new borns father…I don’t understand…Why do we have to pay for everything we’ve done wrong? Why do we have to pay for the pain that others have caused us? My dad doesn’t have to pay for abusing me, my siblings and my mom…my dad’s sister doesn’t have to pay for molesting me when i was 4 years old…The 2 men that raped me while i was drunk don’t have to pay…The man that raped and sodomized me doesn’t have to pay either…I do. And i continue to lose while paying big.
It doesn’t matter what i do…good or bad. I never win. I keep trying to move forward from the past…Its hard…These Officers are paid to make sure I’m “Safe and secure” but, they only come for one reason and one reason only: To abuse me, continually. I have no room for error, their rules change constantly and each Officer has their “Personal” set of rules…90% of the staff is authoritarian, so even asking them for a basic need angers them…They’ll just start barking commands. Theres nowhere to run, hide or turn…Mental health will only keep telling me I’m “Psychotic”…Im safest in my bed…The very place my soul began to die…The only thing i can do is pray the same prayer I’ve prayed, way before i thought about committing a crime: “Dear Jesus, please take my life…I don’t want to be selfish and take my own life, so please Lord, let me die…Amen”.
By J. Celso Castro Alves, Truthout | News Analysis
In theory, a public defender’s mission includes dedicated advocacy for clients against whom the power of the carceral state is mobilised. In theory, a public defender’s mission includes dedicated advocacy for clients against whom the power of the carceral state is mobilized. However, in practice, defenders sometimes end up working with the forces of power — and against the best interests of their clients. (Photo: Pixabay)
On January 5, 2015, Randall H. McCants Jr. was not alone when Judge James H. Roberts Jr. of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of the State of Alabama opened his courtroom for a plea hearing. “Mr. McCants is present in court with his attorneys, Jim Gentry and Mike Cartee,” he stated. Besides the judge’s reference to McCants’ court-appointed attorneys by their nicknames, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Roberts cited McCants’ constitutional rights before highlighting his defense attorneys’ central task: “Your attorneys are bound to do everything they can honorably and reasonably do to see that you obtain a fair and impartial trial.” McCants answered the judge’s questions with “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” Even to the charge of capital murder and the question of whether he understood that “the range of punishment is life without parole or death,” McCants responded, “yes, sir.”
According to the nine-page hearing transcript, Roberts knew that McCants had pled not-guilty during his post-arrest arraignment in January 2011. In fact, Roberts acknowledged that McCants’ attorneys had only recently “proposed a plea agreement” for the “lesser offence of murder.” Yet, at no point during the hearing did Roberts wonder about what prompted McCants’ sudden about-face. Did four mysterious years in pretrial detention impact McCants’ decision? Could McCants’ attorneys have coerced him to plead guilty by invoking fear that a greater punishment awaited him at trial? Whether McCants was mentally competent to grasp legal proceedings or understand that he was assuming full responsibility for the accidental death of a Tuscaloosa resident apparently did not cross Roberts’ mind either.
Rather, Judge Roberts proceeded with the plea colloquy by asking prosecutor Jonathan S. Cross to provide “some facts” for the first-degree murder plea. Compliant, Cross stood and delivered some skimpy facts in the most casual and sloppy fashion possible:
I sit back and watch things that go on. I use to stand up at the injustices and the wrongs done by officers, but retaliation against me for so long, i say nothing. I wonder if we are forgotten, or does society even care that we suffer abuse behind bars. There are plenty of female inmates that are here for drug convictions or robbery or theft of property and a lot get out after 5 years or less and keep breaking the law and keep coming back to prison.
And there are plenty of us who are here for defending our lives or that of our children, and by taking a life that was a threat to us or our loved ones, we forfeit our freedom and removed from our families. We are rarely ever given another chance at living in society, yet we are the ones who won’t commit another crime and keep returning to prison. We are not the ones society should fear. We don’t get high on drugs and break into your home to steal.
We are guilty of murdering one who was threatening to kill us. On those rare occasions when we are given another chance at society, we don’t come back, we don’t prey on society. We appreciate our new freedom because we have lost so much. Society shouldn’t worry about female violent offenders. 9 times out of 10, the person we killed was an abusive husband or boyfriend. It’s easy to judge us, but until your life or your children’s life has been threatened, you have no idea what you are capable of doing. The ones society should worry about granting parole to and the ones who get a slap on the hand with light sentences are the nonviolent offenders, society drug users and drug dealers. Society should fear these women. They will prey on your Mom & Dad, your sister and brother, your grand parents, your children.
The prison door is a revolving door for them. For us who are here for murder in self defence, serve our whole sentences and are rarely granted parole and those with life sentences end up dying in prison. We are locked up and forgotten and yet we are the least dangerous, the least of society’s worries.
Transcribed by admin, inmates name withheld in fear of retaliation
I was just released form the Montgomery Women’s Facility yesterday, 06/07/2016. The medical staff there has got to be the worst in the world. I spent 1 1/2 years in pain and sick only to find out last month I had “some kind” of mass in my side. I was given meds that I was allergic to, causing serious side effects. I have witnessed individuals become ill and need immediate attention and told to put in a sick call.
The heat inside the warehouse is over 100 degrees as we speak. Yet when organizations offer to donate a/c systems they are turned down even though women are falling out with heat exhaustion. Rules change not just on a daily basis but on the same shift from officer to officer. Why? Because the officers are allowed to run this camp, not a warden.
This facility is supposed to be for work release, yet over half are not. This facility currently houses 300 people in an 75 x 95 tin building. It is filthy, over run with rats, roaches and flies. The septic system must be emptied at least once a month and the fumes are toxic. There is a constant gas leak outside the building that causes nausea and head aches.
The water is from the prison next door and is constantly being shut off. State jobs are not assigned to age appropriate individuals. Often women over 50 will be put on outside/inside grounds working harder than some men. Not only are women punished for infractions with write ups they then must do extra duty. Does not matter if you are smoking in an unauthorized area or have a dirty urine the punishment is the same.
Women almost never scare us; commit random acts of serious violence; violate our sexual integrity; or form organised crime networks and yet their prisons numbers are now the highest in recorded history.
The homogeneity of the human species breaks down when it comes to criminal behaviour. Women, who constitute slightly more than 50% of population, commit only about 20% of all crime. They commit even a lower portion of all serious crime.
Hillary Clinton is right to assert that the sentencing system should be reformed to reduce the growing number of female prisoners but the changes should go much further than has been suggested. We should implement concrete targets to remove the stains on our landscape and societal ethic that are women’s prisons.
There are remarkably similar patterns of female offending and incarceration in the United States and Australia. In the United States women commit only 17% of felonies, while in Australia they commit about 13% of the crimes dealt with in the higher courts.
Moreover, when it comes to sexual offences, rounded off to the nearest whole number, women constitute 0% of all offenders – that’s right, zero. The crimes they most commonly commit are drug and property offences. Thus, in the US, approximately 30% of female prisoners are incarcerated for property offences, and a further 26% for drug offences. The percentages for these offences are 26% and 17%, respectively, in Australia.
Women do of course commit homicide offences, but nearly always the victim is a relative and the crime was committed against the backdrop of an abusive relationship or depressive mindset. All homicides are heinous crimes but the types of homicides committed by women rarely involve random victims and hence do not engender community fear.
Despite this, the rate of female incarceration in both the United States and Australia is on the increase – far outstripping the increase in male incarceration levels. Women now comprise 8% of prisoners in the United States and Australia, which amounts to more than 200,000 incarcerated inmates in the US and 3,000 in Australia.
Nearly every one of these incarcerated women is the victim of a perverse and lazy policy disfigurement that fails to acknowledge the marked differences between female and male offenders. The differences are so stark that not only should women be treated more leniently because they commit less serious crime but they should also be treated more leniently when they commit the same crime as a man.
There are four major differences between male and female offenders.