America's local jails have more incarcerated women than state prisons, 60% of them not convicted, says report

The growing number of unconvicted women in jails points out that incarcerated females have lower incomes than their male counterparts and that makes it difficult for them to afford the money bail.


                            America's local jails have more incarcerated women than state prisons, 60% of them not convicted, says report

Mass incarceration is a major problem that America faces. Though the US constitutes 5 percent of the global population, it has nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. According to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the number of incarcerated population in the US has gone up by a staggering 700 percent and the number of people in jails outpacing the population growth and crime. 

While the attention is on the prison population as a whole, a thought has also been spared for the women facing the problem. The number of females who are in jails and why they are facing the experience and how much is it different from their male counterparts are questions that seek attention. 

On Tuesday, October 29, a new report was released by Prison Policy Initiative in collaboration with the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice and it gives a comprehensive picture of how many women are actually in the prisons, their geographical locations, and the reasons. 

It is not easy to find answers to the questions on the imprisoned women since the data on gender are often missing and even if they are available, unearthing them becomes extremely difficult.
 
The latest report gives an idea about 231,000 women and girls incarcerated in the US. The data are accumulated from a number of government agencies and they calculate the breakdown of women held by the specific offense and each correctional home that houses them. 

While in the case of the overall incarcerated population, the state prisons have more people than those in local jails (twice), it is the jails that have more incarcerated women than those in state prisons. In recent decades, women’s incarceration has grown at double speed than the men and they have been kept in local jails disproportionately. While the report tries to unearth some crucial data about the state of women’s incarceration, it concedes that it has to depend on very limited resources that are neither updated regularly nor are always compatible across time.

One shocking aspect of women’s incarceration is that 60 percent of women in local jails are not convicted of a crime and are waiting for trial. Besides holding the high number of women, the local jails are also paid by the state and federal agencies to keep another 12,500 women. 

“For example, ICE and the US Marshals, which have fewer dedicated facilities for their detainees, contract with local jails to hold roughly 5,600 women. So, the number of women physically held in jails is even higher,” said the report.

In 2016-17, women population in jails went up by over 5% on a given day

It was pointed out that in 2016-17, the count of women in jails on a given day increased by over five percent and this happened even as the rest of the jail population went down. It said it is difficult to explain why such a contradiction happened and attributed the reasons to rise in arrests among women, pretrial detention, jail sentence lengths, etc. Of these, data on arrest annually and by sex are reported and since women’s arrests went down by 0.7 percent and hence this factor doesn’t give a whole explanation.

Casework supervisor John MacIntosh holds eight-month-old Skyler while talking with six-week-old Lillian at the Decatur Correctional Center on February 18, 2011, in Decatur, Illinois. The children, who were born while their mothers were serving their sentences live with their mothers at the prison, part of the Moms with Babies program at the minimum-security facility. The program allows incarcerated women to keep their newborn babies with them for up to two years while serving their sentence. The program boasts a zero percent recidivism rate compared to the statewide rate of 51.3 percent. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Another sad fact about women’s incarceration is their disproportionate number in jails. The growing number of unconvicted women in jails points out to the fact that incarcerated females have lower incomes than their male counterparts and that makes it difficult for them to afford the money bail, the report added.

Women's prolonged stays in jails lead to other problems as well. Since jail stays are generally shorter than prison stays, a long stay in jails makes it difficult to stay in touch with family. Also, jail phone calls are much more expensive compared to those from prisons while other forms of communications are restricted -- sometimes even to postcards than real letters. And since an overwhelming number of women in jails are mothers, the restrictions put their children in jeopardy.

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