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Facts About Women In Prison

        The female incarcerated population in the U.S. continues to grow at alarming rates. More women are entering the United States prison system than any other country in the world! According to the Sentencing Project’s September 12, 2012 Fact Sheet, the number of incarcerated women in prison in the U.S. increased 646% between 1980 and 2010, rising from 15,118 to 112,797. Today there are more than 205,000 women incarcerated in our nation. Most of these women are mothers, and many of them are first time offenders.

Out of the 220,000 prisoners that the federal Bureau of Prisons houses, roughly 7% (approximately 14,500) are women. Behind the walls of prisons throughout our country, women of diverse backgrounds, races and creeds are serving lengthy sentences for federal offenses. For comparable charges, state offenders are serving significantly less sentences. Contrary to popular belief, these women are not violent offenders who pose a physical threat to our society. Most of them are nonviolent offenders who can be effectively rehabilitated through alternative means to incarceration.

Of greater concern, these women have been ripped away from their children and families, causing psychological and financial hardships. Unlike state prisoners, female federal prisoners are often housed in states far away from their residences. It is common for families to have to travel in excess of 500 miles to visit women in federal prison, because there are limited facilities that house these women. As a result, many federal female inmates only get to see their children a few times each year. Some, who lack the necessary finances, don’t get to see their children at all! This vicious cycle of incarceration spirals yet another epidemic of youth vulnerable to criminal behavior, because of the lack of guidance and support from their maternal, parental figures.

Instead of paying their way forward and becoming productive members of society, these women are being “warehoused” in prisons throughout our nation, without receiving adequate programming to foster true rehabilitation. Instead of paying their debt back to society, tax payers are paying a hefty price to house these prisoners, and in many cases, also pay for the care of their children. In the case of females in federal prison, these figures add up quickly. The average cost to house each woman is approximately $30,000 a year, not including medical expenses. Utilizing this figure, it cost tax payers over $6.1 billion a year to house female offenders!

Female federal offenders often face discrimination in the U.S. judicial system. Females are more likely to receive greater sentences than their male counterparts who commit the same exact crimes, especially for white collar crimes. As federal inmates, these women are left to serve 85% of their sentence without any recourse. Unlike state prisoners, federal inmates do not receive parole. As a result, the large population of female offenders experience over-crowdedness and lack of access to effective programming, and often insufficient health care. These women are simply housed in prison, for significant periods of time, serving no productive purpose. Does any of this make any sense? You be the judge!

Women offenders often face different circumstances than the average male offender, yet the rehabilitation efforts for both males and females in the U.S. justice system is typically treated as one and the same. Although women offenders have victimized others through their crimes, most of them are also victims. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics published in December of 1999, 57.2 percent of females reported abuse before admission to prison. These women have special needs that MUST be addressed! Harsh punishments without effective programming will NOT remedy these issues! There must be a CHANGE! If not, our entire society is negatively effected!

Instead of locking mothers away and throwing away the key, at great expense to the general public, believes these women, of every demographic, deserve a second chance to restore their lives and correct their paths. There are more adequate solutions for rehabilitation than are currently available. These alternatives will save tax payer dollars, and at the same time offer female offenders an opportunity to become productive, contributing, members of society.

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