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June 2, 2007

New series on women in CJ system

I received an e-mail this past week from The Sentencing Project announcing a new "series of briefing sheets on Women in the Criminal Justice System."  Here is the official announcement:

The Sentencing Project is pleased to announce the publication of a series of briefing sheets on Women in the Criminal Justice System.  The series documents the gender implications of changes that have occurred over the last 20 years within the criminal justice system, including expansive law enforcement, stiffer drug sentencing laws and re-entry barriers.  The briefing sheets delve into family, socioeconomic and physical and mental health issues that women — and their families — face as a result of being incarcerated. 

Women in the Criminal Justice System contains five sections: Overview; Involvement in Crime; Mothers in Prison; Inadequacies in Prison Services; and Barriers to Reentering the Community.

Women in the Criminal Justice System notes that since 1985 the number of women in prison has increased at almost double the rate of incarcerated men — 404 percent vs. 209 percent.  Reasons for the increasing rate for women are directly related to the 'war on drugs,' economic disadvantage, and the criminal justice system's failure to carefully consider women's involvement in crimes.  The analysis also reports that 30 percent of all females incarcerated are black and 16 percent are Hispanic.

The full series of briefing sheets, which runs only 10 total pages, can be accessed  at this link.

June 2, 2007 at 02:25 PM | Permalink

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The briefing sheets do not provide much information about females in jail or under supervision. The problem is that the rapid growth in the number of female offenders was not anticipated and almost all of the local facilities and services for female offenders are saturated or are approaching saturation. If the female portion of the county jail is full the female inmates will have to be housed in some other county jail and because this is a general problem finding a jail with space for females is difficult. So far we have been able to place our overflow female jail inmates in bordering county jails but we expect that we will have to start using jails 50 to 100 miles away in the immediate future.

Work release facilities for women are few and far between and and the nearest one with beds available may be 50 to 100 miles away. The judge may not be willing to use work release as a jail alternative under those circumstances. If the woman's children are placed in foster homes they may be placed in different homes in other counties wherever space is available. It is possible that the only time the woman will see her children while she is in jail is when the child/children are brought in juvenile court for review of their placement or because they are charged with a crime.

Saturation of facilities and services by incarcerated juvenile females is another problem. Adults and juveniles cannot be held within earshot which as a practical matter means that juveniles are held in juvenile detention centers (some of them are regional facilities serving four to six counties). Again the rapid growth in the number of juvenile female offenders is saturating such facilities. We are experiencing too many cases where a juvenile who needs treatment for alcohol/drug abuse or placement in a residential facility may wait in a juvenile detention center until a bed opens up. Our juvenile court judges have only a few choices (many of them bad). The most likely victim of sex abuse is a thirteen year old girl who has been abused by a member of her own household so it is possible that some of the girls in juvenile detention are victim/offenders.

I talked with a girl who was locked up because her father had threatened to kill her if she reported the sex abuse and he was out of prison on parole (it costs about $250/day to lock up a juvenile and $65/day to lock up an adult so go figure on that one and obviously nobody cares about justice). And they try to tell us the criminal justice/injustice system works. It is a confederacy because it is a set of independent agencies with a common set of clients not a integrated system designed to work efficiently.

Posted by: John Neff | Jun 2, 2007 8:36:40 PM

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