The incarceration rate for women in Oklahoma is is more than double the national average. The legislature has set up a task force to learn why. The New York Times says that nationally, from 1993 through 2002, while overall crime was falling, the number of women arrested rose 14.1 percent while male arrests dropped 5.9 percent. While male arrests for aggravated assault fell 12.3 percent, female arrests rose 24.9 percent. Drug arrests rose 34.5 percent for men, 50 percent for women. The number of women arrested on embezzlement charges increased 80.5 percent, surpassing the number of men arrested.
Between 1990 and 2002, the number of women in state and federal prisons jumped 121 percent, to 97,491 from 44,065, while the number of men imprisoned the number of men behind bars rose 84 percent, to 1,343,164 from 729,840.
In part, it is a statistical quirk. Because the number of women in prison has been so much smaller than the number of men, any increase translates into a larger percentage gain.
In addition, said criminologist Freda Adler of Rutgers University, “with women taking on the social roles of men, they have the same opportunities to commit crime,” especially property crimes like embezzlement.
Angela Browne of the Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health, said there was no evidence that women had become more violent. In fact, she said, the number of murders committed by women has fallen since 1980. The reason for the big increase in the number of women arrested on charges of aggravated assault, she said, is that with the push to curb domestic violence, the police often are required by law to arrest the woman as well as the man when there is a report of a fight between partners.
What is driving the increase in the number of women in prison, both in Oklahoma and nationally, is the growing number of convictions for drug and property offenses. Nationally, in 2000, 40 percent of court convictions leading to prison for women were for drug crimes and 34 percent were for property crimes.
Why the number of women arrested for drug violations has climbed so sharply is not well understood, said Beth Richie, a professor of criminal justice and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She said there is strong evidence that more women going to prison are addicted to drugs than male inmates; some drugs, including crack and methamphetamine, may have a more powerful effect on women.