Action Committee For Women in Prison

Some facts about incarcerated Women

Female inmates comprise about 6% of all inmates, yet they are the fastest growing segment of the total prison population. The yearly growth rate for female incarceration is 1.5 times higher than the rate for men. Women now make up a greater percentage of today’s prison population than ever before.

With the advent of mandatory sentencing laws in the mid-eighties, the female prison population has exploded throughout the country. Nationwide the female prison population grew by 592% from 12, 279 in 1977 to 85, 031 in 2001. In l986 in California the female inmate population was 3, 564. Today the population numbers approximately 13,000. This constitutes a statewide increase of approximately 340 %. According to the California Department of Corrections, every prison in the state is operating at 200% capacity today, at a cost of $43, 429 per inmate.

More women are incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses than for any other crime. In California 78 % of women are incarcerated for non-violent crimes which are usually drug related. Despite the fact that drug addiction is one of the primary causes of female incarceration, there are very few drug treatment options available to incarcerated women in this state. The California Institution for Women and Valley State Prison for Women each offers a substance abuse program that provides treatment to approximately 50 women at a time. Criteria for entering the program is very narrowly drawn, and often excludes the women who have the greatest need for treatment.

The majority of women in prison are mothers, and they are usually the primary caretakers of the children. The huge increase in female incarceration has significant impact on children and families. An incarcerated woman is at risk of losing her children to the foster care system, and many of the women eventually lose their parental rights altogether. The legal process usually commences while the women are in county jail where there is no legal assistance available and notification of court proceedings is unreliable at best. The separation from family, and the risk of losing their children, is one of the most devastating consequences of female incarceration.

A 1995 study of women in the California prison system found that 71% had experienced ongoing physical abuse prior to the age of 18, and 62% reported ongoing physical abuse after the age of 18. 41% of the women reported sexual abuse prior to the age of 18 and 41% reported sexual abuse after the age of 18. (Barbara Bloom, Barbara Owen, Profiling the Needs of California’s Female Prisoners) Despite these numbers the Department of Corrections does not offer counseling programs for victims of sexual abuse. The only program for victims of physical abuse is the inmate activity group, Convicted Women against Abuse (CWAA) where the women try to help themselves and each other to deal with their abuse.