According to the New York Times, a new study from the Vera Institute of Justice shows that the number of women in jails in the United States is increasing more quickly than the number of men in jails. The majority of these women are black or Hispanic and many are also low-income. The study suggests the increasing rate of female inmates has been overlooked by criminal justice reform efforts.
The study indicates that the number of women in jails has increased by 14 times since the 1970s, to about 110,000. This increase has occurred primarily in rural areas, with populations fewer than 100,000 people. Nearly half of all jailed women are in small counties. The counties with the highest increases in jailed women include Nevada County, California; Floyd County, Georgia; and St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.
The women being jailed are primarily nonviolent offenders arrested for failing drug tests, violating parole or probation, committing drug crimes or shoplifting. According to the Vera Institute study, women are arrested “as a result of efforts to cope with life challenges such as poverty, unemployment, and significant physical or behavioral health struggles.”
The lack of attention toward women in jails is problematic, as jails are often designed with men in mind and often fail to meet the particular physical and psychological needs of women.
In addition, an incarcerated mother or female head of household disrupts families’ lives in damaging ways, since women are often primary caregivers for children. Around 80% of incarcerated women are mothers, and many are single parents.
Two thirds of women in jail in the United States are women of color. Around 44% are black women, 15% are Hispanic and 5% are of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. The fact that this increase in jailing disproportionately affects women of color once again reveals inherent racism and classism in policing and criminal justice policies in the United States. Hopefully, these studies will continue to shed light on the increase in women in jails and how incarceration affect women and families of color.
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