Rise in Female Prisoners Correlates With Poverty, Violence and Drug Dependence

By David Eugene Archer Sr.

The female prison population in the United States from 2000 through 2009 rose by 21.6 percent while there was a 15.6 percent increase for men.

In 2010, 205,000 women were in prison or jail. This growth resulted in families and communities that were torn apart, reported Julie Ajinkya, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.

Ajinkya contends that sexual violence, drug dependence and poverty are strongly correlated with women’s incarceration. She said we lock women up instead of providing services that could help them.

Women of color experience this at disproportionate rates so they have a greater chance of entering the criminal justice system, Ajinkya claims.

She cites the Sentencing Project report that demonstrates racial disparities among women inmates over the past decade. Black women were in state and federal prisons at six times the rate of White women in 2000.

By 2009 this ratio declined by 53 percent, about 2.8-to-1. The disparity between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White women declined by 16.7 percent over the same period.

There are many factors at play in these racial disparities, such as changes in law enforcement and sentencing practices and policies, or involvement of women in crime, she stated.

Black women experienced a decline of 30.7 percent in their incarceration rate between 2000 and 2009. Latino women had a 23.3 percent rise, and White women’s rate increased 47.1 percent. Ajinkya explained that could be because of increased methamphetamine enforcement — a drug used more by Whites and Latinos — and harsh sentencing policies.

The vast majority of women in prison — 85 to 90 percent — have been victims of violence prior to incarceration, including domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and child abuse, she said.

Girls of color who are victims of abuse are more likely to enter the criminal justice system as offenders, according to Ajinkya. But White girls have a better chance of being viewed as victims and referred to child welfare and mental health systems.

Eighty percent of women prisoners are estimated to suffer from substance addiction. Instead of treatment they are imprisoned, tearing families apart. Sixty-five percent of women prisoners compared to 44 percent of men report having minor children, Ajinkya reported.

Seventy-seven percent of imprisoned mothers report they were the primary caregiver. One and a half million children currently have a parent in state or federal prison — 1 in 15 black children, 1 in 42 Latino children, compared to 1 in 111 White children, she stated.

When released, women are restricted from governmental assistance programs such as housing, employment, education and subsistence benefits, Ajinkya said.


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