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WOMEN IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM


The number of women in prison, a third of whom are incarcerated for drug offenses, is increasing at nearly double the rate for men. These women often have significant histories of physical and sexual abuse, high rates of HIV infection, and substance abuse. Large-scale women's imprisonment has resulted in an increasing number of children who suffer from their mother's incarceration and the loss of family ties.

Women in Prison

Women News
April 14, 2014 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Lawmakers should lift Missouri's lifetime ban on food stamps for ex-offenders

An editorial calls Missouri’s continuation of the lifetime ban on food stamps for people with records of drug felonies “a meat-ax approach to a problem that would be better solved with a scalpel.

“A provision that authorizes the ban was part of the federal welfare reform law approved in 1996. In the frenzy at the time over winning the misbegotten “war on drugs,” the idea got only two minutes of debate after it was introduced on the U.S. Senate floor. One minute for Republicans and one for Democrats. It then was adopted by a unanimous voice vote.

“Because there was so little debate, the motivation behind the idea is unclear. It surely didn’t receive much thought. But coming down heavy on drug-sellers and users was seen as a Good Thing. As if someone preparing to commit a drug crime was going to stop and think, ‘Wait ... if I commit this crime, and get caught, I might lose eligibility for food stamps.’

“Federal and state felony drug ex-offenders were the only group barred from food assistance by the reform laws. There was and is no ban for child molesters, murderers, rapists or other felons who have served their time. Worth noting is that women are disproportionately affected by the ban since they are about twice as likely as men to receive food stamps.


April 11, 2014 (Colorlines.com)
For Missouri Moms, A Past Drug Conviction Means No Food Aid, Ever

Missouri is one of 10 states that still ban people with felony drug convictions from ever receiving food stamps. Overall, according to a report by The Sentencing Project, an estimated 180,000 women and their children, primarily families of color, are disproportionately affected by this little-known holdover from Clinton-era welfare reform. Now for the first time Missouri’s legislature is looking at loosening if not lifting the lifetime ban. Even with bipartisan support however, it’s unclear whether the bill will make it through.

The majority of the other states still riding hard for this War on Drugs-era punishment are located in the South.

 


April 1, 2014 (Socialistworker.org)
Raising babies in prison

shadow of mother and child behind bars

Prison nurseries have existed in this country for a century--the first was established in 1901 at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility north of New York City—but there is renewed interest in expanding these programs today.

The expansion of mother-infant programs coincides with the increasing incarceration of women. Over 200,000 women are behind bars and over 1 million are on probation or parole, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.) And the number of prisons for women has multiplied eight times over the last three decades, according to a 2006 report from the Institute on Women and Criminal Justice.

The majority of incarcerated women are charged with nonviolent offenses.

Because women tend to be the primary caretakers of children, the massive increase in women's incarceration has had devastating effects on families. According to a report from The Sentencing Project, one of every 50 children in the U.S. has one or more parents incarcerated.


March 21, 2014 (Hudson Sun and Metrowest Daily News)
Kids, families take the collateral damage of mandatory minimums

In 1991 there were 936,500 minor children with a parent in state or federal prison. By the end of 1999, there were 1,498,800, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics - a more than 50 percent leap in less than a decade.

That sea change traced back to the advent of "mandatory minimums," which dramatically changed how judges doled out prison terms. Prior to mandatory minimums, judges were expected to weigh circumstances when they issued sentences - including past offenses and the likelihood of reoffending.

But by the late 1980s, legislators and the public were fed up with rising crime rates, including the crack epidemic that ravaged American inner cities. Sentencing was being removed from judges' hands, and by 1994 - when California voters passed the state's famous Three Strikes Law - state and federal mandatory minimum sentences reached to an ever-wider array of offenses with ever-harsher penalties.

Reaction against extreme mandatory sentences formed early, but it took decades to become mainstream.


March 11, 2014 (Digital Journal)
Women in Prison: No longer hopeless

Cells in jails and prisons around the United States are being filled by women at an alarming rate.

Drugs. Crime. Children. Shame.

A prison sentence is different for a woman than it is for a man.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Approximately 2.2 million people are behind bars in the nation’s jails and prisons, The rate of women being imprisoned is “increasing at nearly double the rate for men.” A third of them are incarcerated for drug offenses, according to a report by The Sentencing Project.

Two-thirds of the women in state prisons are mothers of a minor child.

Trish Parker was one of these women. She has served time both in a federal prison and local jails and come out, never to return. Her story is remarkable. A light in a dark world, she shows other women the way out of the past.