[Pnews] States of Women's Incarceration: The Global Context

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 19 16:46:33 EDT 2017


  States of Women's Incarceration: The Global Context

      By Aleks Kajstura
      <https://www.prisonpolicy.org/staff.html#kajstura> and Russ Immarigeon



We already know that when it comes to incarceration, the United States 
is truly exceptional. As we have reported previously 
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/>, the United States incarcerates 
716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. 
Worldwide, and within the U.S., the vast majority of those incarcerated 
are men. As a result, women's incarceration rates are overshadowed and 
often lost in the data. As a first step in documenting how women fare in 
the world's carceral landscape, this report compares the incarceration 
rates for women of each U.S. state with the equivalent rates for 
countries around the world.

Outpacing the world

Only 5% of the world's female population lives in the U.S., but the U.S. 
accounts for nearly 30% of the world's incarcerated women.

/*World Women's Incarceration Rates If Every U.S. State Were A Country 
(Graphic Insert - https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/women/)*/

Across the globe, the 25 jurisdictions with the highest rates of 
incarcerating women are all American states. Thailand, at number 26, is 
the first non-U.S. government to appear on this high-end list, followed 
closely at number 27 by the Unites States itself. The next 17 
jurisdictions are also American states.

Overall, with the exception of Thailand and the U.S. itself, the top 44 
jurisdictions throughout the world with the highest rate of 
incarcerating women are individual American states.

Nearly 30% of the world's incarcerated women are in the United States, 
twice the percentage as in China and four times as much as in Russia.

Putting U.S. states in a global context is sobering; even the U.S. 
states that have comparatively low rates of incarceration far 
out-incarcerate the majority of the world.

Illinois' incarceration rate for women is on par with El Salvador, where 
abortion is illegal and women are routinely jailed for having 
miscarriages <http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24532694>. New Hampshire 
is on par with Russia, and New York with Rwanda.

Rhode Island, which has the lowest incarceration rate for women in the 
U.S., would have the 15^th highest incarceration rate in the world if it 
were a country. In other words, only 14 countries (not including the 
United States) incarcerate women at a higher rate than Rhode Island, the 
U.S. state that incarcerates women at the lowest rate of imprisonment.

Outpacing our peers

As we report, the United States incarcerates women at a rate similar 
only to Thailand. But looking instead to our international peers, 
exactly how does the U.S. measure up with other nations?

For comparison we use some of our closest allies, the founding countries 
of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO). These NATO countries 
incarcerate women at a rate eight to twenty-five times lower than the 
United States as a whole:Graph showing that the United States 
incarcerates women at higher rates than other NATO-founding countries. 
The U.S. incarcerates women at a rate of 127 per 100,000, Portugal at 
16, United Kingdom at 13, Canada at 11, Luxemburg and Belgium at 9, 
Norway and the Netherlands at 8, Italy at 7, France at 6, and Denmark at 
5. <https://www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/NATO_genderincarceration.html>

As we have noted, Rhode Island has the lowest women's incarceration rate 
in the U.S., but it still has a rate more than twice that of Portugal, 
which has the second highest rate of incarcerating women among founding 
NATO nations. Nationally, the U.S. incarcerates women at a rate eight 
times higher than Portugal.

Graph showing rate of women's incarceration in the U.S. between 1910 and 
2014. The rate remains mostly below 20 per 100,000 before climbing 
sharply after 1980, settling well above 120 in the current century. 
United States’ incarceration rate for women is currently more than eight 
times higher than it was throughout most of the 20^th century.

Outpacing ourselves

In the U.S., we are not only incarcerating women far more than nearly 
all other nations, but we are also incarcerating women far more than we 
have done in the recent past. The sudden growth of incarceration in our 
country has been staggering; our incarceration rate nearly tripled 
between 1980 and 1990.

Our own history demonstrates that high rates of incarceration are not an 
essential part of American policy; rather they are the outcomes of a 
series of now regrettable policy choices by federal, state and local 
officials in the last three decades.


Currently prisons and jails in the U.S. confine approximately 206,000 
women (at a rate of 127 per 100,000). Within the U.S., it is commonly 
noted that women are incarcerated far less frequently than men, but 
comparing women's incarceration rate to that for men paints a falsely 
optimistic picture. When compared to jurisdictions across the globe, 
even the U.S. states with the lowest levels of incarceration are far out 
of line.

The statistics revealed by this report are simple and staggering. They 
suggest that states cannot remain complacent about how many women they 
incarcerate. Women should be a mainstay of any state policy discussions 
on the economical and effective use of incarceration if we hope to 
incarcerate fewer women.

About the data

This report compares the prevalence of incarceration in individual U.S. 
states with other countries, and therefore brings together data on the 
number of women incarcerated in states and countries as a portion of the 
states' or countries' total female populations. This report also puts 
together several different datasets to show the growth of the 
incarceration rate for women in the United States over time.

/U.S. State data:/

We choose to use U.S. Census data because we wanted to be sure to 
include all the forms of incarceration in the United States. (The Bureau 
of Justice Statistics has not published state-level estimates of the 
U.S. jail population — which makes up 30% of the total mass 
incarceration pie <https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie.html> — 
since 2006.) We used U.S. Census 2010 data 
that shows the total number of people in each state who are confined in 
local, state, and federal adult correctional facilities. The women's 
population was calculated by aggregating female population reported for 
all age groups in these adult correctional facilities.

This powerful census dataset comes with one quirk worth discussing: the 
Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as if they were residents of 
prison locations rather than their home communities. In the case of 
state prison systems that send a large number of people to prisons in 
other states, or in the context of federal prisons, this Census Bureau 
residence determination can influence a state's incarceration rate 
calculated with that data. A significant portion of West Virginia (61%), 
Connecticut (51%) and Minnesota's (43%) female prison population appear 
to be women in federal facilities located within the state's borders. We 
did not attempt to factor out these populations for two reasons. First, 
as a practical matter, systematically disentangling the Census Bureau's 
reported incarcerated populations into discrete jurisdictional 
categories is impractical. And secondly, federal prisons are not sited 
randomly; states which host federal prisons are active partners in 
buoying incarceration.

/Country data:/

The women's incarceration rate for each country was calculated using two 
incarceration datasets from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research 
and population data from the United Nations and other sources.

The number of women incarcerated in each country was calculated based on 
the Institute for Criminal Policy Research's World Prison Brief's 
Highest to Lowest - Female prisoners (percentage of prison population) 
which provided the percentage of each country's incarcerated population 
that is female, and the corresponding list of incarcerated population 
totals for each country 
(For some countries, the World Prison Brief includes some number of 
girls in the numbers of incarcerated women.)

For most countries' women's population we relied on the United Nations' 
World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Total Population - Female 
file <http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/DVD/>. For Taiwan and countries within 
the United Kingdom, the UN's World Population Prospects and the ICPR's 
World Prison Brief were incompatible, so we relied on individual country 
censuses for female population totals for each jurisdiction. We used 
Taiwan's 2010 Census 
<http://ebas1.ebas.gov.tw/phc2010/english/rehome.htm>, and for the 
United Kingdom, England & Wales 
Northern Ireland 
and Scotland 
<http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/ods-web/standard-outputs.html> (Year 
2011, Table DC1117SC).

We were unable to calculate the rate of incarceration for women in four 
jurisdictions within the former Yugoslavia. The World Prison Brief 
publishes incarceration data separately for Serbia and Kosovo, and 
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Federation and Bosnia and Herzegovina: Republika 
Srpska separately, but reliable female population counts are only 
available for each pair of jurisdictions combined, so we could not 
calculate an incarceration rate.

Finally, to make the comparisons in this report more meaningful, we've 
chosen to only include nations with a total population of at least 
250,000 women. For that reason, Iceland, which is also one of the 
original NATO founders, is not included in the NATO graph, or the full 
list above. For those interested, Iceland's incarceration rate is lowest 
among the NATO founders, at 3 per 100,000.

/U.S. historical data:/

The historical graph was calculated using different datasets that 
included women in all types of correctional facilities (including jails) 
and the total U.S. women's population for the corresponding year.

Historical data for the number of women incarcerated in prisons 1910 and 
1923 was calculated based on incarceration data from the Bureau of 
Justice Statistics' Historical Corrections Statistics in the United 
States, 1850-1984 
<http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/hcsus5084.pdf#page=80> (Table 3-31. 
Characteristics of Persons in State and Federal Prisons). The data for 
1933 through 1970 came from Bureau of Justice Statistics' State and 
Federal Prisoners, 1925-85 
<http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/sfp2585.pdf#page=2> (Table 1. 
Sentenced prisoners in State and Federal institutions: Number and 
incarceration rates, 1925-85). And data for 1980 through 2014 came from 
the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Prisoner Statistics Program, 
Sentenced female prisoners under the jurisdiction of state or federal 
correctional authorities, December 31, 1978-2014 

The historical numbers of women incarcerated in jails is also based on 
multiple sources. For 1910 through 1980 and 1982 we calculated the 
number of women incarcerated in jails based on Bureau of Justice 
Statistics' Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States, 
1850-1984 <http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/hcsus5084.pdf#page=106> 
(Table 4-15. Characteristics of Persons in Jails). (We were unable to 
identify any source for the number of women incarcerated in jails in 
1981.) From 1983 to 1994, Bureau of Justice Statistics' Sourcebook of 
Criminal Justice Statistics - 1994 
<http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/scjs94.pdf#page=542> (Table 6.11 Number 
of Jail inmates, average dally population, and rated capacity: By legal 
status and sex, United States, 1983-94). For years 1995 through 1999, 
and 2001 through 2004, the number of incarcerated women in jails was 
calculated from the Sourcebook of criminal justice statistics Online's 
Table 6.17.2012, Jail inmates, By sex, race, Hispanic origin, and 
conviction status, United States, 1990-2012 
<http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t6172012.pdf> and Table 6.1.2011, 
Adults on probation, in jail or prison, and on parole United States, 
1980-2011 <http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t612011.pdf>. And 
numbers for 2000 and 2005 through 2014 are from Bureau of Justice 
Statistics' Jail Inmates at Midyear 2014 
<http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/jim14.pdf#page=3> (Table 2. Number 
of inmates in local jails, by characteristics, midyear 2000 and 2005-2014).

 From the data above, we calculated the total number of women 
incarcerated in each year, but in order to calculate the rate of 
incarceration, we also needed the total number of women in the U.S. for 
each year. Population data until 1980 and for 1990, was calculated based 
on sex ratios from the Census Bureau's Demographic Trends in the 20th 
Century Census 2000 Special Reports 
<https://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/censr-4.pdf#page=168> (Table 6. 
Population by Sex for the United States, Regions, and States: 1900 to 
2000, Part B. Female) and the total U.S. population reported by the 
Census Bureau. The sex ratios were reported decennially, so for 1923 and 
1933 we estimated the ratio based on an adjusted percentage of change 
between the bookend decades that were reported. Starting with 1980 
(except for 1990), we took the female population numbers directly from 
the U.S. Census Bureau's intercensal estimates and decennial census 
counts. Total female U.S. population for 1982 through 1989 came from the 
Census Bureau's Quarterly Population Estimates, 1980 to 1990 
<http://www.census.gov/popest/data/historical/1980s/datasets.html> and 
the data for 1991 through 1999 came from the Census Bureau's Intercensal 
Estimates (1990-2000) 
<http://www.census.gov/popest/data/intercensal/index.html>, and 2000 
through 2014 from the Census Bureau's American FactFinder 

About the authors

The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces cutting 
edge research to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization, and 
then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. This 
report was prepared by Aleks Kajstura 
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/staff.html#kajstura>, Legal Director of 
the Prison Policy Initiative, and Russ Immarigeon, an independent 
researcher and editor of the two-volume set, Women and Girls in the 
Criminal Justice System: Policy Strategies and Program Options 
<http://www.civicresearchinstitute.com/wgc_book.html> (Civic Research 
Institute, 2006, 2011).


We extend a special thanks to

Josh Begley <http://joshbegley.com/>

for his innovative work on

States of Incarceration: The Global Context 

, upon which this report relied, and Elydah Joyce for her work on the 
NATO graphic.


Prison Policy Initiative logo <https://www.prisonpolicy.org/>

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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