Information on Incarcerated Women & Girls

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June 27, 2016
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April 4, 2017

Information on Incarcerated Women & Girls

M. Shannon Williamson has been a faculty member, academic advisor, and relentless dreamer in the Academic Center for Excellence at Dillard University since 2010. With a background in Clinical Psychology and Counseling she brings compassion and empathy to her work with students for a holistic academic experience. Shannon first became interested in working with formerly incarcerated women and girls after hearing Syrita Steib-Martin, the founder and president of The Operation Restoration speak at an event. She hopes to serve incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls through advocacy, education and research in the higher education and mental health communities.

All research below provided completed by M. Shannon Williamson.

M. Shannon Williamson has been a faculty member, academic advisor, and relentless dreamer in the Academic Center for Excellence at Dillard University since 2010. With a background in Clinical Psychology and Counseling she brings compassion and empathy to her work with students for a holistic academic experience. Shannon first became interested in working with formerly incarcerated women and girls after hearing Syrita Steib-Martin, the founder and president of The Operation Restoration speak at an event. She hopes to serve incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls through advocacy, education and research in the higher education and mental health communities.

 

 

INCARCERATED WOMEN AND GIRLS

The female prison population stands nearly eight times than its population in 1980. Women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985.  

 

Although there are many more men in prison than women, the rate of growth for female imprisonment has outpaced men by more than 50% between 1980 and 2014. As of 2014, there were 1.2 million under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

 

RACE AND ETHNICITY

In 2014, the imprisonment rate for African American women (109 per 100,000) was more than twice the rate of imprisonment for white women (53 per 100,000). Hispanic women were incarcerated at 1.2 times the rate of white women (64 vs. 53 per 100, 000).

Black women represent 30% of all incarcerated women in the U.S. but only represent 13% of the general female population. Hispanic women represent 16% of incarcerated women, although they make up only 11% of all women in the U.S.

While African Americans women are still overrepresented in the prison population, the rate of imprisonment for African American women has been declining since 2000. The rate of imprisonment for white women continues to rise.

 

STATE VARIATION

Only 5% of the world’s female population lives in the U.S. but the U.S. accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women. The rate at which women are incarcerated varies greatly from state to state. At the national level, 65 out of every 100,000 women were in prison in 2014. Oklahoma has the highest rate of female incarceration at 142 out of every 100,000 women.

Corrections policies and practices have largely been developed through the lens of managing men, not women. Generally, policies and practices in jails and prisons do not reflect an understanding of the risk and needs of female offenders because most of the empirical research is based on male offenders. 30% of states do not even have policies unique to women.

 

OFFENSE TYPES FOR WOMEN

Women in state prisons are more likely than men to be incarcerated for a drug or property offense. In 1986 12% of women in state prisons were incarcerated for drug offenses. By 2014, 24% of women in state prisons were incarcerated due to a drug offense.

Over the past 20 years, the war on drugs has caused significant rise in the number of women incarcerated and their access to adequate drug treatment.

Women’s engagement in criminal behavior is often related to their connection with others. Relationships with children, family, and others often take the highest priority for women. Their exposure to dysfunctional and abusive relationships can often lead to their own involvement in crime. Many of the women in today’s prisons are there because of romantic or other relationships with male drug dealers, who give their names to officials in exchange for more lenient sentencing.

In fact, around 92% of women in prison report histories of trauma. Women entering jails are much more likely to have experienced poverty, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, or other forms of victimization that are linked to their offending behavior. Women in the criminal justice system are much more likely than women in the general population to experience substance abuse problems which are often indicative of other mental illness and traumatic history.  Essentially, our society chooses to punish instead of heal. We lock women up instead of providing services that could help them live healthy, secure, and productive lives.

Furthermore, women pose a lower public safety risk than men. Women typically enter the criminal justice system for nonviolent crimes that are drug or property related. Within correctional facilities, incidents of violence and aggression committed by incarcerated women are extremely low. Women released from prison have lower recidivism rates than their male counterparts; this holds true for rearrests, reconvictions and returns to correctional facilities.

 

INCARCERATED GIRLS

As with all youth confinement, girls are confined considerably less frequently than 20 years ago. At the peak year, 2001, over 15,000 girls were confined in residential placement settings. By 2013, this number had dropped to around 7,700.

White girls have experienced a more substantial decline in youth placements than African American girls. From 1997 to 2013 the White percentage of confined girls dropped from 49% to 41%; among Black girls however, it dropped from 34% to 31%.

Girls are confined more often than boys for low-level crimes such as status offenses and technical violations, behaviors that would not be considered illegal if committed by an adult (such as skipping school or running away).

 

CHILDREN OF INCARCERATED WOMEN

More than 65% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18 (compared to 44% of men). 77% of incarcerated mothers report providing most of their children’s daily care prior to being imprisoned and women of color are more likely to be the single heads of household than their white counterparts. Half of all women in prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their families and of the mothers who are imprisoned this far from home. 38% will not see their children even once during their incarceration.

Female inmates require reproductive healthcare that may include pre- and post-natal care for pregnant women and family planning services. The Federal Bureau of Prisons guarantees the provision of such services and most states have policies regarding reproductive healthcare for women. However, there is no comprehensive review of how these policies are implemented across the states and whether the care and services provided meet standards set by National Commission on Correctional Healthcare, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, or the American Public Health Association. Additionally, 32 states have not banned the practice of shackling women in state prisons while they give birth. States who have banned the practice struggle with reinforcement. Incarcerated women are at high risk of unintended pregnancies upon release, and for having high-risk pregnancies due to lack of prenatal care and high rates of substance dependence.

Transition and reentry into the community can be more challenging for women. Women are more likely than men to have primary child-rearing responsibilities and are often single parents. Women report greater levels of poverty than men and less employment history preceding incarceration. Finding safe housing where women can live and support their children is very challenging.

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