Facts about the Over-Incarceration of Women in the United States

December 12, 2007
With more than one million women behind bars or under the control of the criminal justice system, women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985.
  • Nationally, there are more than 8x as many women incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails as there were in 1980, increasing in number from 12,300 in 1980 to 182,271 by 2002.
  • Expanding at 4.6% annually between 1995 and 2005, women now account for 7% of the population in state and federal prisons.
  • Between 19 77 and 2004, New Jersey 's female prison population grew by 717% with an average annual percent change of 8.8% per year.
  • Th roughout the period from 1977 to 2004, New Jersey 's female imprisonment rate was 33 female prisoners per 100,000 female residents.
  • In 1977 there were 180 total female sentenced prisoners in New Jersey
  • In 2004 there were 1,470 total female sentenced prisoners in New Jersey

The male to female imprisonment ration indicates the number of male inmates to every female inmate

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  • In 1977, across the states, there were an average of 26 male prisoners for every female prisoner; New Jersey 's 1977 ration was higher than average with 29 male prisoners for every female prisoner
  • In 2004, New Jersey 's male to female imprisonment ration (17:1) remained higher than the average across states

Over the past 20 years the war on drugs has caused significant rise in the number of women incarcerated and their access to adequate drug treatment.

  • 40% of criminal convictions leading to incarceration of women in 2000 were for drug crimes
  • 34% were for other non-violent crimes such as burglary, larceny, and fraud
  • 18% of women in prison have been convicted because of violent conduct
  • 7% were for public order offenses such as drunk driving, liquor law violations and vagrancy

Many women in prison have experienced physical or sexual trauma at the hands of men.

  • 92% of all women in California prisons had been “battered and abused” in their lifetimes.
  • It appears that no such study has even been conducted in the State of New Jersey.

Women of color are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

  • Black women represent 30% of all incarcerated women in the U.S, although they represent 13% of the female population generally
  • Hispanic women represent 16% of incarcerated women, although they make up only 11% of all women in the U.S.

Among female state prisoners, two-thirds are mothers of a minor child.

  • Over 1.5 million children have a parent in prison
  • More than 8.3 million children have a parent under correctional supervision and more than one in five of these children is under five years old. 

Source List

Caught in the Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women and Families . ACLU, Brennan Center for Justice & Break the Chains. April 2005.
Christopher Hartney, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, The Nation's Most Punitive States for Women Fact Sheet , July 2007.
Face the Facts: Women, Girls & Prison – VDAY Ohio/Kentucky Inserts (ACLU 8/2007)
Glaze, L.E., & Bonzcar, T.P. Probation and Parole in the United States , 2005 , Washington , DC : U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2006, at 4, 6-8.
Snell, T.L. Women in Prison , Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 1994.
Mumola, C.J. Incarcerated Parents and Their Children , Washington , DC : U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. August 2000.
Women in the Criminal Justices System , Briefing Sheets, May 2007 www.sentencingproject.org .
Women in Prison Project, Correctional Association of New York , Imprisonment and Families Fact Sheet , May 2007.

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