Dignity Campaigan for Women

Women Prisoner Fact Sheet

  • The US incarceration rate was stable at about 100 per 100,000 people from 1925 until 1974 when it began to climb steeply to a rate of about 714 per 100,000 in 2006. 
  • With 2.3 million people behind bars the US has the largest incarcerated population in the world and the highest rate of incarceration.  More than 2,300 per 100,000 people in the US are under some from of penal control. 
  • Women are the fastest growing segment of prison and jail populations (50% in the last decade).  In 1970 there were 5,600 women incarcerated in the US.  In 2004 there were 103,000.  There has been no increase in the crime rate for women. 
  • African American women are more than 3 times as likely as Latino Women and six times more likely than white women to be locked up.
  • 57% of women in State prison report that they were physically or sexually abused prior to incarceration.
  • Most women prisoners are mothers.  64% have minor children, and 60% were living with their kids when arrested. 

Women Prisoners in California

  • California holds the largest number of women prisoners of any US State, and has the two largest prisons for women in the world in Chowchilla.
  • CA with 30 million people incarcerates 11,250 women.  Germany with 80 million holds 800 women.
  • CA has among the highest % of male officers working in female prisons: 66% vs. 41% elsewhere.
  • 40% were employed at the time of their arrest and 40% had incomes of less than $600 per month.
  • 66% have been convicted of property or drug related crimes, crimes of survival.  More have been victims of violent crimes than have been convicted of violence. 
  • 33% are able to participate in any educational, vocational or employment training.  Thousands more are eligible, but there are no programs for them.  Most “jobs” are petty make work jobs like porters, yard crew or menial tasks in the kitchen or laundry with no hope for future employment.
  • There are no penal resources devoted to transportation of children to prison to visit their mothers.
  • 54%of CA incarcerated mothers are never visited by their children.
  • In 1985 there were 140 community placement beds for minimum custody female prisoners to live outside the prison walls with their pre-school children.  In 2005 there are still 140 such beds despite the 500% increase in the female prison population.
  • There are 12,000 women on parole with 1,000 beds available for drug treatment as an alternative to re-incarceration for petty drug use or possession parole violations.  Drug treatment could cut recidivism by 80%. 
  • Only 20% of parolees are in any kind of program assisting them in any way.
  • Denial of eligibility for drug offenders for public benefits like housing assistance reduces the chance of rehabilitation (those convicted of other crimes face no such restriction).
  • The sexually assaultive routine cross gender pat search of women prisoners was stopped in September 2005 after a community campaign.


RESOURSES: 1. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics:  4/99, Prior Abuse Reported by Inmates and Probationers.  8/00, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children.  11/03, California State Prisoners with Children.  7/01, Mental Health Treatment in State Prisons.  12/99 Special Report: Women Offenders. 2. California Department of Corrections: 2/04, Prison Census Data.  5/04, Rate of Felon Parolees Returned to California Prison.  5/04, Historical Trends: 1983-2003. 3. Breaking the Barriers for Women on Parole, Little Hoover Commission of California 2004  4. Rethinking Treatment of Female Prisoners, Jenifer Warren, Los Angeles Times, 6/19/05  5. California Prison Focus Dignity for Women Prisoners Campaign 2004-2007

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