United States: #1 in Putting Women in Prison

December 7, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


While men make up 90 percent of those imprisoned in the United States, the number of women behind bars has been growing at a faster rate than the overall prison population.

» Today, there are about 206,000 women in prison and jail in the USA. Only 5 percent of the world’s female population lives in the U.S., but the U.S. accounts for nearly 30 percent of the world’s incarcerated women.

» Thirteen percent of the women in the U.S. are Black; 30 percent of the women incarcerated in the U.S. are Black.

» According to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S. is the country with the second highest female incarceration rate—Thailand is #1. The report also breaks down the incarceration rate for each U.S. state, comparing these rates to countries around the world: If every U.S. state were counted as a country, the top 25 countries with the highest female incarceration rates would be in the United States. (Thailand would be #26 on this.) West Virginia at #1 incarcerates 273 of every 100,000 women. The state of Colorado has a higher rate of imprisoning women than Russia.

Women's Incarceration Rate--United States 1910-2014
The incarceration rate for women in the United States is currently more than eight times higher than it was throughout most of the 20th century. (Graph courtesy of Prison Policy Initiative)

In 1980 there were just over 15,000 women in state prisons. By 2010 there were nearly 113,000. This leap in the mass incarceration of women is due mostly to the war on drugs: most women in prison and jail are there not for violent acts, but because they have been convicted of low-level drug or property crimes. Many found themselves convicted as part of a larger conspiracy prosecution because they were living with drug dealers.

Bureau of Justice Statistics for 2014 report that 59 percent of women in federal prison were serving time for drug offenses and only four percent were in prison for violent offenses. In state prisons, 24 percent of women in 2013 were incarcerated for drug offenses, and 37 percent were imprisoned for violent offenses.

Most of the women behind bars in the U.S. have children. Many suffer from drug addiction and mental illness; many have experienced physical and sexual abuse in their lives. According to a 1996 study of California prisoners, 92 percent of the women in prison had been abused. (New York Times, “Women Behind Bars,” November 30, 2015) Women in prison face horrific abuse--brutality and rape by guards; and in 28 states, women can be shackled during labor, delivery, and while they are caring for their newborns.

See “The Scandal of Women’s Prisons... And the Shackles that Bind Half of Humanity“ at revcom.us.



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