New Report by Prison Policy Initiative and ACLU Provides New Analysis of Fastest Growing Incarcerated Population: Women

Report Provides Important Insights Into Drivers of Women’s Incarceration as Policymakers and Advocates Seek Reforms

October 19, 2017 3:45 pm

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NEW YORK — With 219,000 women now incarcerated in the United States, the Prison Policy Initiative and ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice today released a report that offers a deeper understanding of the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population: women.

The report, Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017, provides important perspective on how incarcerated women fit into the nation’s larger incarceration crisis, and critical insights into drivers of women’s incarceration. The publication comes at a critical time, as policymakers and reform advocates across the country seek solutions to reduce the nation’s jail and prison population.

The analysis breaks down how many women fall under federal, state, and local control, and for what kinds of offenses they are incarcerated. This is the first time such an analysis has been done. The report’s use of data, statistical analysis, and big-picture data visualization creates a never-before-seen snapshot illuminating unique problems and challenges facing incarcerated women.

“There is an astounding lack of data on women’s incarceration,” said Aleks Kajstura, Prison Policy Initiative Legal Director. “We had to weave together data scattered across incompatible government reports and surveys to answer even the most basic questions. Our analysis shows that ending mass incarceration will require crafting policy changes that focus on jails, where nearly half of incarcerated women are held.”

Kajstura also cautions that “still more questions remain to be answered. For example, even though we know that Black and Hispanic women are disproportionately incarcerated, the data necessary to calculate a racial or ethnic breakdown of the women held in the various correctional systems we detail in this report simply does not exist.”

“In stark contrast to the total incarcerated population, where the state prison systems hold twice as many people as are held in jails, incarcerated women are nearly evenly split between state prisons and local jails,” the report notes, while laying out a number of key findings, which include:

  • 60% of women in local jails are unconvicted
  • 44% of incarcerated women are under local control
  • 36% of women in state prisons are incarcerated for offenses involving violence
  • 28% of women in state prisons are incarcerated for property offenses
  • 25% of women in state prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses
  • 10% of women in state prisons are incarcerated for public order offenses like drunk driving or vagrancy
  • Only 6% of incarcerated women are held in federal prisons

“In order to end mass incarceration, we must address the fact that women are the fastest growing population behind bars in the United States,” said Udi Ofer, Director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. “This report provides a unique and important snapshot of the full picture of incarcerated women in prisons and jails, which is the first step in connecting the dots to develop a deeper understanding of what women are incarcerated for so that we can better understand not only the challenges, but also the solutions. For example, the data show that 60 percent of women in jail are incarcerated without being convicted of a crime. Many women are held pretrial because they cannot afford cash bail and are being punished with incarceration for being poor, putting their families and jobs at risk, and languishing behind bars for weeks or even months at a time. To end the mass incarceration of women we must end a cash bail system where women are incarcerated for being too poor to afford bail.”

The report is accompanied by the stories of three women who have been touched by the criminal justice system in various ways, including women on the frontlines of the movement to create a smarter system for women and families across the country. The first story can be found here:

The report can be found here:

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