[Economic disparities that exist between men and women,
particularly women of color, are exacerbated for formerly incarcerated
women. Lack of structural support increases women’s chances of
experiencing poverty, re-offending and returning to imprisonment.]
A COMPREHENSIVE REPORT ON INCARCERATION AND WOMEN OUTLINES THE GENDER
March 17, 2023
_ Economic disparities that exist between men and women, particularly
women of color, are exacerbated for formerly incarcerated women. Lack
of structural support increases women’s chances of experiencing
poverty, re-offending and returning to imprisonment. _
Women represent about 9 percent of all incarcerated people in the
United States, but data about their circumstances is spotty at best.
We do know that in recent decades, imprisonment rates for women have
increased dramatically, growing at twice the pace of men’s
incarceration. A report
[[link removed]] published
this month by the nonprofit think tank Prison Policy Initiative (PPI)
provides one of the most comprehensive recent assessments of the
realities facing women and girls held in the country’s prisons and
PPI teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to pull data
from several government agencies, which can often be fragmented or out
of date. The numbers from PPI’s report show that the Covid-19
pandemic briefly disrupted the upward incarceration trends for women
before they returned to “business as usual.” They also show that
incarcerated women are more likely to enter correctional facilities
with physical and mental illnesses and more likely to be held in jails
than in prisons. These are all factors that shape women’s
experiences while in custody.
“The carceral system was not developed with women in mind,” said
Cynthia Roseberry, acting director of the justice division at the
ACLU. “Women are impacted in tremendously different ways than men:
From the places where they’re imprisoned, to their experiences
inside, to the difficulty of reentry, women are impacted
Here are some of the major findings from the report:
INCARCERATION DECLINES DURING COVID-19 WERE TEMPORARY
Pre-pandemic, women’s populations in local jails increased by 5
percent from 2005 and 2019, while men’s jail populations decreased
by 14 percent in that same period. In prisons, women’s populations
were on the decline pre-pandemic, but at a slower pace than the
decrease of men’s prison populations.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States,
prison and jail populations fell much more rapidly. A number of
factors contributed to these population drops: For starters, delays in
bookings and court proceedings slowed the entry of people into
States and counties also faced increased pressure in the early days of
the pandemic to reduce jail and prison populations amid concerns about
incarcerated people’s vulnerability to the virus and the adverse
effects of lockdowns and isolation. A number of states and counties
implemented measures to either divert or release nonviolent offenders.
In the first year of the pandemic, the number of women in local jails
fell by 37 percent, to their lowest level since 1999. Women’s prison
population declined by 23 percent between December 2019 and December
2020. But these large declines were short-lived.
The 19th previously reported
[[link removed]] on
a data set tracking 500 jails throughout the country during the
pandemic showing that numbers dropped, then started to rebound by June
2020. PPI’s report, which captured a broader national picture,
indicated that women’s jail populations rose by 22 percent between
mid-2020 and mid-2021, and continued to rise for the next two years.
Compared to the first year of the pandemic, incarcerated populations
in prisons continued to decline during the second year, but by a much
smaller percent. Women’s prison populations decreased by 0.5 percent
from December 2020 to December 2021. They have since grown to nearly
MOST INCARCERATED WOMEN ARE HELD IN JAILS
About 49 percent of incarcerated women are held in jails, which aligns
with the general incarcerated population. A majority, 60 percent, of
those women in jails have not yet been convicted of a crime and are
awaiting trial. Of the country’s incarcerated women who have been
convicted, 35 percent of them are held in jails, though only about 8
percent of convicted people overall are held in jails.
Women are more likely to commit nonviolent crimes that receive shorter
sentences and as a result are housed in jails meant for short-term
stays up to one year. But the differences between jails and prison are
notable, researchers told The 19th.
“In a prison, because there’s the expectation that people will be
there for a long time, there may be programming for reentry, or
education, or to address addiction, but in jails, there is not that
kind of programming,” Roseberry said.
Jails can also be deadly for women
[[link removed]], she
added. Women in jails have a higher mortality rate than men and die of
drug and alcohol intoxication at twice the rate of men, according to
the PPI report. Mental health challenges are also an issue for women
in jails. Women are more likely to enter jails and prison with mental
health problems and experiences with psychological distress. Between
the periods of 2000 to 2004 and 2015 to 2019, deaths by suicide among
women in jails increased by almost 65 percent.
In addition to challenges addressing mental health concerns, jails are
ill-equipped at responding to the physical health problems
incarcerated women face, including heart disease, cancer and
respiratory infections, which collectively kill incarcerated women at
the highest rates.
[Shanita Jefferson speaks to a crowd at Families for Justice as
Groups like Families for Justice as Healing have advocated on behalf
of incarcerated women and girls, seeking more rehabilitation programs
and fewer prisons.
INCARCERATION TRENDS AFFECT GIRLS AS WELL
About 5,400 girls are held in juvenile facilities, according to PPI.
Nearly 10 percent of girls in custody are held for what is known as
“status offenses” such as running away, truancy, or disobeying
their parents or legal custodians like teachers or camp counselors.
About 3 percent of incarcerated boys are confined for status offenses.
Researchers said that one overlooked factor that contributes to status
offenses is abuse that girls may experience.
Black girls account for 35 percent of girls detained, Hispanic girls
account for 20 percent and White girls account for 38 percent of those
in juvenile facilities. The PPI report did not provide figures for
Asian or Indigenous girls, though other research indicates that
Indigenous and Black girls are proportionally among the most
criminalized in the country.
Another significant statistic: Nearly 40 percent of girls in detention
identify as LGBTQ compared with about 14 percent of boys. Stigma among
men and boys about queer identities is likely one factor contributing
to this gap between girls and boys. It’s unclear what other factors
explain the disproportionate number of LGBTQ girls in custody, said
Wanda Bertram, the communications strategist for PPI.
Speaking about queer youth generally, Bertram said, LGBTQ+ youth are
more likely to experience homelessness, which can lead to
“Young people are being pushed out of their home, or they’re
leaving home situations that are harmful for them, and then they’re
ending up in juvenile detention or in jail,” Bertram told The 19th.
INCARCERATION HAS LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS
Probation and parole are often viewed as alternatives to incarceration
that allow people to live outside a correctional facility while
abiding by a predetermined set of rules. Probation involves a person
who has been convicted of a crime whose sentence has been suspended.
Parolees are individuals who have served a portion of their sentence
behind bars and are granted conditional release from the facility.
The conditions of a person’s probation or parole can include hefty
fees, curfews, job requirements, travel restrictions, and meetings
with a probation or parole officer. Violating these restrictions can
result in what is called a “technical violation” that can lead to
prison time. PPI’s analysis of the Bureau of Justice Statistics’
2016 Survey of Prison Inmates found that 33 percent of women in state
prisons were on probation at the time of their arrest, “which
underscores how this ‘alternative to incarceration’ often simply
delays incarceration,” the report said.
Roseberry of the ACLU also noted that the lack of rehabilitation
services, such as educational courses and drug addiction programs,
inside the facilities where incarcerated women are kept mean that they
have trouble finding stable housing and employment after their
release. Additionally, “almost 2.5 million women and girls are
released from prisons and jails every year, but few post-release
programs are available to them,” the report said.
The economic disparities that exist between men and women,
particularly women of color, around the country, are exacerbated for
[[link removed]] women.
This lack of structural support increases women’s chances of
experiencing poverty, re-offending and returning to imprisonment.
From a policy perspective, researchers encourage more investments in
support for reentry programs as well as services that address factors
such as poverty, mental illness and addiction that contribute to
crimes committed by women.
_CANDICE NORWOOD is a breaking news reporter. Before The 19th, she
was a digital politics reporter for the PBS NewsHour, a staff writer
for Governing magazine covering state and local government, and a
freelancer for the Bloomberg News White House team._
_A century ago, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made
voting, our country’s most fundamental mode of civic participation,
a right regardless of gender. But this watershed moment in our
democracy excluded millions of women, particularly women of color,
from the ballot box for generations. And the reality is suffrage
remains a work in progress for many in this country, particularly
people living in states where voter suppression exists and tens of
thousands of transgender Americans who face barriers to voting._
_The 19th Amendment remains unfinished business, a fact we acknowledge
in our logo with an asterisk — a visible reminder of those who have
been omitted from our democracy. The expansion of the franchise
continues today, and The 19th aims to capture this ongoing American
_Our goal is to empower those we serve — particularly women, women
of color and the LGBTQ+ community — with the information, resources
and community they need to be equal participants in our democracy. We
will do this through:_
* Mass Incarceration
* women prisoners