Over 714,00 women are held in penal institutions in the United States, which is 53 percent more than in 2000. This includes women on remand, those awaiting trial, and inmates who have been convicted and sentenced, according to the World Prison Brief’s World Female Imprisonment List.
A report by the Vera Institute of Justice states that the number of incarcerated women is growing at a faster rate than any other correctional population. Many of these women are people of color and survivors of violence and trauma, and have high rates of physical and mental illness, as well as substance abuse.
A Sentencing Project fact sheet states that more women have experienced some form of the criminal justice system due to stiffer drug sentencing laws and post-conviction barriers to reentry that affect women. A graph in this factsheet indicates that more women stay in state prisons versus federal prisons. In addition, the number of white women in jails has increased by 56 percent, while the percentage of women from other races has declined.
This fact sheet also ranks the states by incarceration rates per 100,000. Oklahoma and Idaho have the two highest rates, ranking 142nd and 125th, respectively. The United States holds the highest number of incarcerated women, with approximately 211,870 female prisoners. China is close behind with 107,131 prisoners.
According to the New York Times, Nevada County, CA; Floyd County, GA; and St. Charles Parish, LA have the highest rates of incarcerated women.
The United States has a female prison population rate of 65.7 per 100,000, according to the Sentencing Project. The United States’ incarceration rate outranks that of other NATO countries, according to data from Prison Policy. The U.S. has a rate of 127 while Portugal has a rate of 16.
The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency’s (CSOSA) “Statistics on Women Offenders-2016” report states that female inmates have higher rates of mental health problems than men and are often survivors of domestic violence. Additionally, the report notes that many have experienced sexual assault.
The VIJ report also describes how many of these systems are geared towards men, and because of this, jails often cannot adequately address the challenges women face in jail. Therefore, women often return to their families worse than when they entered jail.
On March 30th, 2016, the White House hosted the Women and the Criminal Justice System Convening, which gathered “justice-involved women and girls, family members of incarcerated people, women serving in law enforcement,” and those advocating for a more effective justice system, according to a press release. Several influential women spoke, including U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
“And, of course, even as we proactively address this issue, we will continue not only to investigate police departments that investigate discrimination against women, but also to craft the kind of comprehensive settlements that will bring real reform to those communities,” Lynch said.
The number of incarcerated women in U.S. jails will decrease as law enforcement develops new strategies and targets greater causes that often result in the imprisonment of women.
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