Women Shortchanged by Justice Reforms: Report

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Criminal justice reform has not helped women to the same extent that it has benefited men, a new report has found.

The report, commissioned by The New York Women’s Foundation and released by the Prisoner Reentry Institute  (PRI) of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, argues that reforms must be gender-responsive, faithful to the principles of parsimony and proportionality, and engage social services to better serve individuals with criminal justice involvement.

“The administration of justice has paid insufficient attention to gender,” writes the report’s author, PRI Policy Director Alison Wilkey. “Women have not been served well under a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

The number of women in the American justice system has grown exponentially, by more than 700%,  from 1980 to 2014, the report notes. Although they are a lower-risk population in the system, policymakers must pay special attention to the “pathways” that have brought them there, including violence, trauma and poverty.

Women of color in particular are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated, said the report, entitled “Women In Justice: Gender and the Pathway to Jail.”

The report examined data on women in the criminal justice system obtained from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services; interviews with experts, criminal justice policy organizations and service providers; and the current literature on women involved with the criminal justice system.

The author also looked closely at women’s experience in Rikers Island, the only New York City facility where women are held.

The New York City data shows that “women are charged with less serious crimes, are less likely to be charged with violent crimes, and are less likely to return to jail within one year.”

Nevertheless, reforms to the system must be “gender-responsive” through use of social service system and counseling alternatives that address women’s needs, the report said.

While these needs are common among women in the justice system, provision of basic social services shouldn’t be “entangled in the adversarial court process,” it cautions.

Moreover, the author said , participation in such programs should not be mandatory unless it is a “proportionate and parsimonious” response.

The report is divided in four parts: How They Get There: The Journeys That Lead Women to the NYC Justice System; The Road to Rikers: Mapping Women’s Trajectories through the NYC Justice System; The Needs of Women in the NYC Justice System; and Addressing the Needs of NYC’s Justice-Involved Women.

The full report is available here.

This  summary was prepared by TCR intern Davi Hernandez.



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