Incarceration rates in The United States have grown drastically and are rapidly increasing. About 5% of the population will, on average, serve a sentence of about 60 months or more in prison . This rise in incarceration rates has disproportionally affected women . From 1988 to 2008, the imprisonment rate for women has increased by 600%, while for men it has increased by 300% . Currently about 1 million women pass through prisons every year of about 3.2 million arrests. Out of these sentences, about 67% were drug convictions.
Most of these women are in their early to mid-thirties. They are usually from fragmented families, and have had a family member of their own who has been imprisoned. Many have also been survivors of physical or sexual abuse as adults or children. Many are undereducated. Jailed women have a higher rate of HIV than those that are from similar backgrounds but not in jail. Most suffer from substance abuse problems and are unmarried mothers of minor children.
These increased incarceration rates are especially linked to the increase in drug usage and involvement for women over the past two decades. The “war on drugs”, a large problem currently facing The United States, has had the biggest impact on arrests, especially arrests of women. Women are currently more likely than men to serve time for an offense that is drug related, even though women are less likely than men to have a central in drug trade. This should call for a more appropriate response to women criminals and an analysis of the structural cause of the crime, as opposed to solely punitive responses similar to those of violent criminals.
The issue of women’s imprisonment is cyclic. Many incarcerated women have been victimized or have seen violence as a child. Many have grown up in homes where one or more parent was in prison during their adolescence. Growing up with a parent, especially a mother, in prison has extremely detrimental effects on children.
Women play a large role in parenting and support. Increased incarceration of women causes a ripple affect that impacts children, families and neighborhoods. While approximately 75% of all incarcerated women are mothers, only 25% of these mothers can rely on the child’s father to provide care during their sentence. With jobs continuing to disappear, inadequate education for young people, and an increase in homelessness, urban crime rates continue to increase. In 2007, over 1.5 million children had a parent in prison, 8.3 children had a parent in correctional supervision and out of these children, and one fifth were under the age of five.
While their parents are incarcerated, about 28% of children live with their fathers. About 62% of these children live with a grandparent, relative or friend of the mother. About 10% live in foster care or in social service institutions, of these institutions only about 12% have facilities and services specifically for the needs of children with incarcerated parents. The majority of parents are held in federal prisons over 100 miles from their residences and 43% of women are held over 500 miles from their homes. Over half of female prisoners have never had a visit from their children and one in three mothers has never spoken with her children during her sentence. To reduce long-term foster care, The Adoption and Safe Families Act was passed in 1997, to allow for quick termination of parental rights. All 50 states are allowed to terminate parental rights if a child has been living in foster care for at least 15 months. This being said, more than 60% of mothers are expected to have a sentence of over 24 months.
Apart from the effect on children, women often do not get the attention they need during their sentence, as prisons do not focus on female issues. Most female prisoners suffer from mental illness, substance abuse and HIV. While many male correctional facilities offer programs to help men re-integrate into society, women often suffer...
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