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  • How the Increase in Female Incarceration Disproportionately Affects Women with Lower Income

How the Increase in Female Incarceration Disproportionately Affects Women with Lower Income

Women have been getting arrested and put behind bars at a staggering rate over the last few decades. Since 1985, the number of women being incarcerated has steadily increased at a rate almost double to that of men's incarceration. With over 200,000 women in federal and state prisons and local jails, the country's criminal justice system continues to send women to overcrowded correctional facilities.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) statistics, the population of incarcerated women has multiplied eight times over since 1980. Why are more women finding their way behind bars? Primarily, the country's persistent war on drugs; which has caused higher arrest rates and lead to more severe prison terms for both men and women.

Currently, over half of the inmates at Federal Correctional Facilities for Women were convicted and charged with drug crimes. A third of Women's State Prisons are filled with drug-related convicts. Nearly half of all state prisoners, both men, and women, have been charged with either non-violent, drug or property crimes.

In 2017, according to the Whole Pie: Mass Incarceration report conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative and ACLU's Campaign for Smart Justice, half of all women put behind bars in the United States were only in jail. Sixty percent of the women in jail had not yet even been convicted of a crime and were awaiting trial.

Typically, these women have to await trial in jail because they do not have the money to post bond. Since the average income of women waiting for trial hovers around $11,000 per year, they are forced to stay put, even if they are innocent.

A fourth of women behind bars at any given time have not yet been tried. These defendants likely cannot afford a private attorney to represent them in the state courts. Greater funding for these indigent defenses would better prepare these women for court, leading to prison or jails terms proportional to the crime.

In regards to the demographics of imprisoned females, African American women are twice as likely to be incarcerated compared to white women. 109 out of every 100,000 African American women are interned, and 53 out of every 100,000 white women are imprisoned. Although over the last decade, the rate of imprisonment for African American women is declining, the rate is rising for white women.

On the other hand, Hispanic women incarceration rates have not significantly risen or declined over the last 15 years. About 63 out of every 100,000 Hispanic women are imprisoned. But, looking at these statistics as a whole still shows that female incarceration numbers are skyrocketing. In 1980, there were 25,000 imprisoned women, in 2014, there were over 200,000.

In total, women in the United States have been incarcerated at an alarmingly high rate. Not only do sixty percent of women in State Prisons around the country have a child under the age of 18, many incarcerated women have extensive histories of sexual and physical abuse. As more people become aware of growing female imprisonment rates, they turn to organizations dedicated to finding solutions and working towards an effective yet fair criminal justice system.


The Sentencing Project | Women – The Sentencing Project seeks to change the way Americans think about incarceration for over 30 years. This webpage lists detailed statistics about incarceration rates around the country while offering informative resources on the country's justice system.

Prison Policy Initiative | Women's Mass Incarceration – This website culls research data about incarcerated women in the U.S., giving readers information about the type of convictions imprisoned women have committed, demographics, and more.

ACLU | Facts about Over-Incarceration of Women - Learn more about female incarceration rates on this ACLU webpage. ACLU has worked to defend and preserve individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution for almost 100 years

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