A couple of years ago, the number of women behind bars in the U.S. surpassed 100,000 for the first time in our nation's history. The number of women in prison increased tenfold from 1977 to 2002, and has continued to grow since. As I wrote last week, 1 in 89 women are under correctional supervision. Today's map shows the percentage of women in prison in each state. For the background data on your state, visit the Women's Prison Association site.
I wrote last week about women in prison and you responded with some interesting comments for the possible causes of this drastic increase in the female prison population. While there was the suggestion that women's rights movements had erased some bias in the system that previously led to shorter sentences for women, I disagree that this is the case.
The longer sentences and harsh punishment doled out for drug crimes has certainly contributed to this, as drug crimes make up a larger portion of women's sentences (30%) than men's (20%).
Community members pointed to poverty and the economy as a possible cause. Leatrice Brantley wrote:
Many women arrive in prisons carrying society's baggage of abuse and domestic violence, self-medication, under-education, low-self-esteem and a lack of social support systems.
Many are single parents, victims themselves from dysfunctional families and poverty. They turn to crime for a myriad of reasons, ranging from supporting drug habits, inadequate parenting skills and a host of other issues.
Society has failed to provide the much needed social safety nets for women in crises.
William Pointer and William Newmiller wrote that increased enforcement in other crime categories could have played a role - including chid abuse allegations and prostitution arrests.
Women's studies professor Meda Chesney-Lind points out that female domestic abuse victims are increasingly arrested and charged with assault. While the number of women convicted of assault has grown steadily, murder convictions have dropped - perhaps suggesting that there isn't an increase in violent behavior among women.
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