† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice and Considering Hate, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
Criminal InJustice: States of Women’s Incarceration., New Report from Prison Policy Initiative
by nancy a heitzeg
As always , we are grateful for the data and graphics offered by Prison Policy Initiative. As debate over “criminal justice reform” continues to swirl, the data they provide is essential to making informed policy decisions. We encourage you to revisit these key Prison Policy Initiative Briefings:
- Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie A Prison Policy Initiative briefing By Peter Wagner and Leah Sakala March 12, 2014.
- Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity, by Leah Sakala, May 2014
- Tracking State Prison Growth in 50 States, by Peter Wagner, with 50 state incarceration profiles, May 2014
-Today we would like to call your attention to their latest report States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context By Aleks Kajstura and Russ Immarigeon. Here the often overlooked rise in women’s incarceration is noted, and again the U.S. outpaces the world in imprisoning women, at a rate even greater than that of its’ overall incarceration rate; “Only 5% of the world’s female population lives in the U.S., but the U.S. accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women”. From the Report:
“In the U.S., we are not only incarcerating women far more than nearly all other nations, but we are also incarcerating women far more than we have done in the recent past. The sudden growth of incarceration in our country has been staggering; our incarceration rate nearly tripled between 1980 and 1990.
Our own history demonstrates that high rates of incarceration are not an essential part of American policy; rather they are the outcomes of a series of now regrettable policy choices by federal, state and local officials in the last three decades.”
Outpacing our peers
“As we report, the United States incarcerates women at a rate similar only to Thailand. But looking instead to our international peers, exactly how does the U.S. measure up with other nations?
For comparison we use some of our closest allies, the founding countries of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO). These NATO countries incarcerate women at a rate eight to twenty-five times lower than the United States as a whole.
As we have noted, Rhode Island has the lowest women’s incarceration rate in the U.S., but it still has a rate more than twice that of Portugal, which has the second highest rate of incarcerating women among founding NATO nations. Nationally, the U.S. incarcerates women at a rate eight times higher than Portugal.”
The incarceration gap for women is comparable to the gulf that exists in overall rates in incarceration. And we stand alone — first in repression.
We encourage you to read the full report as well as other work by Prison Policy Initiative. And please support if you can — accurate illustrative data is a necessity for any sort of meaningful evaluation and resultant change.