A study released Thursday by the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice provides a detailed analysis of women’s incarceration in the United States, highlighting the role of wage disparity in high pretrial detention rates for women.
Since 2014, the Prison Policy Initiative has quantified the number of people incarcerated in the United States, and calculated the breakdown of people held by each correctional system by offense in an annual Whole Pie: Mass Incarceration report.
Overall, there are currently 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States. Incarcerated women are nearly evenly split between state prisons and local jails – 99,000 and 96,000, respectively. State prison systems hold twice as many people as jails when looking at the total incarcerated population.
According to the report, drug and property offenses make up more than half (about 120,000) of the offenses for which women are incarcerated, and violent offenses make up about a quarter (about 54,000).
The authors also found that more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.
Prison Policy Initiative’s Legal Director Aleks Kajstura believes that the lower income of incarcerated women, relative to incarcerated men, contributes to this data. A previous study by the Prison Policy Initiative found that women who could not make bail had an annual median income of just $11,071. Among those women, Black women had a median annual income of only $9,083 (just 20% that of a white non-incarcerated man). Bail is typically set around $10,000.
However even after conviction, about a quarter of women are held in jails, compared to about 10% of all people incarcerated with a conviction.
Kajstura adds that this figure is troubling, given that over half of all women in U.S. prisons – and 80% of women in jails – are mothers. This makes children susceptible to issues associated with parental incarceration.
A previous report from the Prison Policy Initiative also found that women in jails are more likely to suffer from mental health problems and experience serious psychological distress than either women in prisons or men in either correctional setting.
Furthermore, the “Whole Pie” of incarceration only represents 16% of the roughly 1.4 million women under correctional supervision (75% probation, 9% parole), in contrast to the general incarcerated population where about a third of those under correctional control are in prisons and jails.
According to the report, the unrealistic conditions set by probation undermine its goal of keeping people away from incarceration. Steep fees and meetings with probation officers are standard requirements of the probation system. However, women who cannot afford those fees, babysitters/daycare, or transportation often violate the conditions of probation and are returned to jail.
While more data is needed, this report addresses the policy changes needed to end mass incarceration while considering the unique factors affecting women.
The full report can be read here. This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Brian Edsall. Readers’ comments are welcome.