During the last three decades, the incarceration rate for women in the United states has increased 646%. Some states are higher and some states are lower, but overall, the statistics are alarming. For example, in Maine, a state which has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the United States, the incarceration rate for women increased 757% between 1977 – 2004. Two years ago, 12,000 women were arrested in Maine.
Similar to the men inmates, two main causes of women locked up were drugs and/or economic issues. There are over two million Americans presently incarcerated, but only seven percent of the inmates are women. The majority of the women imprisoned in the United States were found guilty of nonviolent crimes, have little education, little job experience, and many have suffered abuse in their past.
In many of the prisons, women face sexual abuse. A 2007 Justice Department report found that Tutwiler Women’s Prison in Alabama maintained the highest rate of sexual assault among prisons for women and 11th overall of those evaluated across the United States. Since 2007, the complaints against Tutwiler have continued without any true corrective measures by the Alabama Department of Corrections. The Alabama state investigators claimed the majority of complaints were not credible, despite a thorough investigation by the Justice Department which reported an environment of sexual abuse and harassment by prison guards and staff. This month, a former Kentucky correctional officer received no jail despite his confession to 25 counts of sexual abuse and harassment of female inmates.
In Britain, there is growing demand to close women’s prisons and provide alternative sentencing for female non-violent offenders. The violent offenders would be held in small custodial centers near their homes.
There are some programs in the United States consisting of alternative programs instead of prison for nonviolent female offenders. The Women in Recovery program in Oklahoma has achieved great success with their outpatient program for women facing lengthy imprisonment for nonviolent crimes. The program provides housing options, educational programs , counseling for addictions, employment assistance, and other important services. Women in Recovery has a successful recidivism rate of 30%.
Women prisons for non-violent offenders are not the solution to the increasing incarceration rate for women, but rather part of the problem.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com