FOR YOUR INFORMATION |STATISTICS AND BASIC DATA:
The United States incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other nation in the world . Although the overall U.S. prison population declined in 2010 for the first time since 1972 as a result of a decrease in prison admissions, at yearend 2010, more than 1.6 million people were incarcerated in state or federal prisons . If we add people imprisoned in local jails to these numbers, over 2.2 million people—or approximately 1 in every 104 adults—are incarcerated in prisons or jails .
More men than women are imprisoned, with incarceration rates for men and women at 938 and 67 per 100,000 male and female residents. However, women’s incarceration rates have increased faster than those of men since 1977: the women’s prison population grew by 832% between 1977 and 2007, whereas the men’s prison population grew 416% during that period [30, 32]. There are over 200,000 women in U.S. prisons; women comprise about 7% of the prison population [14, 32]. More than half a million women and girls are imprisoned around the world, with the U.S. holding about one-third of this population .
Who are the women behind bars?
• Imprisoned women are disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities. At yearend 2010, Black women (133 per 100,000
Black female residents) had an imprisonment rate almost three times higher than that of white women (47 per 100,000);
Latinas rate of imprisonment fell between that of Black women and white women (77 per 100,000 Latina residents) .
• Increasing numbers of prisoners are migrant women, particularly from Central and South America .
• Approximately 42% of women in state prisons have not graduated high school .
• Between 57 and 75% of imprisoned women experienced physical, psychological, and/or sexual violence before prison, which
is higher than the 43% of non-imprisoned women who report violence .
Some studies suggest that the percentage of
imprisoned women who experienced violence is higher than 75% .
• Seventy-three percent of women in state prison (and 55% of men), have been diagnosed with a mental health problem .
• Seventy-four percent of women prisoners report that they regularly used drugs prior to their incarceration .
• Many incarcerated women have serious physical health problems, including hepatitis, diabetes, and HIV infection.
• Sixty-two percent of women in state prisons are mothers to children under 18 years of age .
• Non-heterosexual and gender non-conforming women are more likely to receive lengthier sentences than heterosexual, or
gender conforming, women, and once in the system are subject to heterosexism and homophobia .
• As of December 2011, there were 58 women on death row, which is 1.8% of the total death row population .
REASONS FOR WOMEN’S INCARCERATION
Why are so many women behind bars, and why has the women’s incarceration rate increased so much faster than that of men? Despite the fact that media images have framed imprisoned women as violent and out of control , women’s high incarceration rates are not a result of rising crimes rates or a “more violent offender” .
• At yearend 2010, about one-third of imprisoned women were sentenced for violent crimes. About 56% of imprisoned women were sentenced for drug or property crimes .
• Drug offenses are the largest source of growth for the women’s prison population. About one-third of women (and one-fifth of men), serve time for drug offenses as compared to 1 in 10 imprisoned women in 1979 .
• Mandatory minimum sentences and sentencing guidelines emerged largely from the war on drugs in the 1980s. These measures require judges to hand down lengthy sentences based on the amount of the drug and presence of a weapon, without taking into consideration extenuating circumstances, prior records, context of the crime, abuse that could have led to addiction, or the low-level role that the woman may have played.
Although women tend to play minor roles in drug crimes (such as petty sales), women drug offenders are likelier to be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated than they were prior to the war on drugs. Mandatory sentencing and sentencing enhancements eliminated judicial considerations of women’s role as primary caretakers of children, so women are removed from their families even if they played a very minor role in the crime.
• Many women became involved in drugs because of economic need or physical coercion by male partners .
• Mandatory minimum sentences and sentencing guidelines have been found to disproportionately target Black women .
• Other “get tough on crime” measures like Three Strikes have helped to increase the rates of women’s imprisonment. In states
like California, the third strike need not be a violent felony to get a woman 25 years to life in prison.
• A smaller number of women are incarcerated for killing their abusers in self-defense. Although detailed statistics on this type
of crime are unavailable, estimates suggest that between 2,000 and 4,000 women are imprisoned for killing their abusers .
• Laws such as the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration
Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) have served to criminalize migrant women. IRCA extended the war on drugs to the border,