[Pnews] Efforts to Decrease Prison Populations Are Leaving Women Behind

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 12 12:21:20 EST 2018


  Efforts to Decrease Prison Populations Are Leaving Women Behind

Victoria Law - February 7, 2018

Anastazia Schmid has spent the past 17 years behind bars in Indiana. 
During that time, she's seen firsthand the impacts of changes and trends 
within the state's prison system -- and the ways in which criminal legal 
reform efforts continue to leave women behind bars.

Schmid, who has spent many of these years studying mass incarceration as 
well as Indiana's history of female incarceration 
isn't surprised. "It has been easy to disregard, really not even have 
anyone notice, this astronomical increase in female prisoners when women 
have completely been left out of any major criminal justice discourse in 
recent times, particularly public discussions," she wrote in an email to 

Indiana is one of eight states where the women's prison population 
continues to grow even as the men's prison population has declined, 
according to "The Gender Divide: Tracking Women's State Prison Growth 
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/women_overtime.html#drugs>," a 
recent report by the Prison Policy Institute. Between 2009 and 2015, 
Indiana's rate of men's incarceration dropped by 6 percent while women's 
incarceration increased by 1 percent.

      Women have become the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated

Other states have even more extreme disparities. In Michigan, between 
2009 and 2015, the number of men in state prisons dropped 8 percent 
while the number of women in prisons increased 30 percent. Texas reduced 
its male prison population by 6,000, but increased the number of women 
by 1,100. In 19 other states, the rate of women's incarceration grew 
faster than that of their male counterparts.

"Women have become the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated 
population, but despite recent interest in the alarming national trend, 
few people know what's happening in their own states," the report noted. 
"Examining these state trends is critical for making the state-level 
policy choices that will dictate the future of mass incarceration."

    Fewer Diversions and Lengthy Sentences for Women

Why the contrast? The report offers a few hypotheses. On the front end, 
fewer diversion programs, or programs that offer alternatives to 
incarceration, are offered to women. The report points to Wyoming, where 
young men facing their first prison sentence can instead be sentenced to 
six months at a state-run boot camp, a rigorous 
alternative-to-incarceration similar to a military boot camp. However, 
no similar option exists for women 
leaving no alternative but years in prison for the same conviction.

In Oklahoma, which continues to lead the nation in women's incarceration 
<http://doc.publishpath.com/oklahoma-no-2-in-the-nation-in-incarceration-in-2016> and 
where the women's prison population is outpacing that of men's prisons, 
the Department of Corrections recently instituted a diversion program 
for women facing nonviolent charges 
<http://doc.ok.gov/female-offender-diversion-program> in Tulsa and 
Oklahoma Counties. The program may keep some women out of prison moving 
forward, but doesn't apply retroactively to the 3,082 women already 
behind bars 

In addition to fewer diversions, women may also lack the information 
necessary to plead to a lesser charge and a shorter prison sentence. 
D'Adre Cunningham has worked as a public defender in Washington State 
for 15 years. Now the lead attorney at the Incarcerated Parents Project, 
she noted that during her time as a defense attorney, many women facing 
violent charges were in codefendant relationships, meaning that they 
were arrested and prosecuted alongside other people. Cunningham compares 
their prosecution -- and their sentences -- to those of women in federal 
drug conspiracy cases 
<http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/40594-women-imprisoned-under-the-drug-war-speak-out-against-sessions-new-policy> who 
often know the least -- and thus have little to no information to offer 
the prosecutor. "Often, the [other] codefendant knows more and can get a 
better deal," she told Truthout. "The least culpable, least 
knowledgeable person ends up with more time because they don't have any 
[information] to reduce their time."

Domestic violence -- and the accompanying coercion -- plays a role in 
some cases 
Another exacerbating factor is the erroneous notion that women are less 
likely to be prosecuted to the same extent as their male counterparts. 
"There's a mistaken belief by the male partner that the girlfriend will 
get off easier," noted Cunningham. Once convicted, Washington has 
mandatory sentencing enhancements, which compounds long sentences and 
bloats the prison population. This means that, even if a smaller number 
of people are entering the prison system, they're staying for longer 
periods of time. In Washington, for example, 8,113 people entered state 
prison in 2017; that same year, 8,055 people left. According to a 
Department of Corrections report to the state Senate, the overall state 
prison system is currently at 103 percent capacity; the main women's 
prison, however, is at 127 percent capacity 

    For Women, Petty Offenses in Prison Can Lead to More Time

Once inside prison, women are likely to receive disciplinary tickets and 
other sanctions for behaviors that are ignored in men's prisons. These 
sanctions decrease chances of parole or other forms of earlier release 
(such as earned good time).

"This is particularly prevalent in the state of Indiana," wrote Schmid, 
who has been in four different state prisons and has seen little 
violence between incarcerated women. This might be why officers focus on 
pettier rules violations. "One thing that remains consistent, and I 
believe is partially because there is so little violence within these 
facilities, is the high charges and sanctions for petty internal 
offenses." In other words, incarcerated women are often penalized for 
acts that are not illegal outside prison walls.

"One of the main targeted areas for sanctioning is ANY offense that is 
deemed 'sexual,'" she continued. But, she explained, an action need not 
actually be sexual to incur a ticket. Any form of physical contact, such 
as holding hands or giving someone a hug, can result in a ticket which, 
in turn, can take away a person's good time or time off for good 
behavior. Another common internal offense is possession of contraband, 
which can range from drugs or weapons to tobacco or unauthorized food 
items. "I recently encountered a woman who has served an additional two 
months in prison for [possessing] tobacco," she noted.

These internal charges reduce a person's chance for a sentence 
reduction. In Indiana, a person requesting a sentence reduction or 
modification must send a progress report to the judge and prosecutor as 
part of their request. That progress report will list any and all rules 
violations, but not the specific details of that violation. "In other 
words, all the court sees is 'Class B violation: sex act' or 'possession 
of unauthorized contraband,'" says Schmid, noting that there is no 
further elaboration as to whether the "sex act" was actually two people 
hugging or if the contraband was a burrito made by a friend. But this 
vagueness means that courts are apt to look less favorably upon reducing 
a prison sentence and allowing a woman to go home earlier.

These tickets for seemingly minor infractions aren't limited to Indiana. 
Lauren Johnson, a Texas prisoner-rights advocate who is formerly 
incarcerated, characterizes the reasons behind disciplinary write-ups 
for women as "petty and silly." For instance, after seeing the prison's 
obstetrician, Johnson noticed a dispenser for hand sanitizer on the wall 
outside the medical office. "I reached out to use it and the guard 
snapped, 'You know that's not for you!' and wrote me up for using hand 
sanitizer," she told Truthout.

    Cutting Away the Safety Net

Women's incarceration is also connected with the way in which supportive 
systems have diminished in recent decades. For years, the cutting away 
of Oklahoma's social safety net has left women with few options for 
survival, causing their incarceration to balloon into overcrowded 
prisons. In terms of "poverty and opportunity" for women, Oklahoma ranks 
among the country's bottom four 
<https://statusofwomendata.org/explore-the-data/state-data/oklahoma/> states, 
according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Nearly 29 
percent of its employed women are working low-wage jobs, and women on 
average earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

      Incarcerated women are often penalized for acts that are not
      illegal outside prison walls.

That's still better than Texas, where women earn 77.8 cents for every 
male dollar 
<https://statusofwomendata.org/explore-the-data/state-data/texas/> and 
29.9 percent of employed women work in low-wage jobs. Texas did not 
expand Medicaid eligibility, leaving nearly 30 percent of its female 
residents without health insurance in 2013. "Many people don't have 
access to health care or mental health care," said Johnson. She also 
noted that, during the last legislative session, the drop in the male 
prison population allowed the state to close four men's prisons 

Kentucky is another state where the growth in women's incarceration 
outpaced that of men's. Nearly 20 percent of the state's women live 
below the poverty line, a lower percentage than Oklahoma or Indiana; 
additionally, 80 percent of women had health insurance in 2013. But that 
may change, now that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has overhauled Medicaid 
imposing work requirements on some recipients, as well as monthly 
premiums. Bevin also issued an executive order ending the state's 
Medicaid expansion 
<http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/369212-kentucky-gov-threatens-to-end-medicaid-expansion> if 
any part of his overhaul is struck down by a court, a move that would 
eliminate coverage for nearly 500,000 people. Research shows that 
poverty, combined with lack of opportunity, is often a pathway to prison 
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/income.html>; dismantling the 
social safety net pushes even more people down that pathway.

In Indiana, which boasts a women's prison population of over 2,382 
women outside of prison earn 75.6 cents for every male dollar 
<https://statusofwomendata.org/explore-the-data/state-data/indiana/>; 31 
percent of women workers are in low-wage jobs. This makes it even more 
difficult for women to find the support they need to stay out of prison.

"There need to be more programs," said Brittany J., who was released 
from an Indiana prison in 2016 to a county with only one small women's 
shelter and few supports for formerly incarcerated women. "The state 
hospitals we have are all gone," she told Truthout. "The government just 
says, 'Lock 'em up.' I know women who have been to prison six, seven 
times. A lot of people don't have support systems."

At the same time, prison rules keep formerly incarcerated women away 
from the support networks they cultivate in prison. Brittany notes that 
the Indiana Women's Prison has numerous programs, including a 
well-respected college program 
But once out, women are cut off from those supports. "You can't speak to 
them anymore," she said. Prison rules prohibited Brittany's college 
mentor from communicating with her; the same goes for the various church 
volunteers whom she had connected with through their in-prison programs. 
This left Brittany to navigate post-prison life on her own. Those 
without support systems on the outside 
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25156422> are at heightened risk 
for reincarceration.

"You need a support system," Brittany reflected. "It's hard to do it by 

    Increasing Women's Prison Populations May Lead to More Women's Prisons

In Washington State, which eliminated parole in 1984 
the women's prison population has increased 4 percent since 2009. The 
state's two women's prisons have been overcrowded for years 
The Washington Correction Center for Women (WCCW) is over capacity by 
more than 200 people 
The women there are constantly at risk of being transferred to the 
less-crowded (but still slightly over capacity) Mission Creek 
Corrections Center.

But the move can have long-lasting consequences extending beyond their 
time behind bars. This is what happened to V.R., a mother of five who 
has spent nearly three years at WCCW. (She asked that she only be 
identified using her initials because her custody case is ongoing.) To 
avoid having her parental rights terminated 
V.R. must participate in reunification therapy. The prison itself does 
not offer reunification therapy, so a licensed therapist must drive the 
1.5 hours from Seattle to work with her. But in November 2017, V.R. was 
abruptly transferred to Mission Creek, 30 miles (or roughly half an 
hour) further from Seattle. The therapist said that she was unable to 
travel that far, and so the reunification therapy sessions stopped. V.R. 
worries that the family court judge will look unfavorably on her 
inability to continue the court-ordered therapy sessions without 
considering the fact that the transfer was beyond her control.

      Women's incarceration is connected with the way in which
      supportive systems have diminished in recent decades.

In Yakima County Jail in the eastern part of the state women have no 
access to programs where they can earn time off their sentences, fulfill 
court mandates to reunite with their children or develop skills to help 
with reentry. Furthermore, the 150-mile distance from Seattle means far 
fewer, if any, visits from children and family members.

Even then, the state's women's prisons remain at capacity. According to 
its 2018 operating budget request 
the Department predicted a shortage of 185 beds in female prisons by 
2021 and 229 beds by 2027. Noting that the state currently has only two 
women's prisons, the Department plans to include 128 new beds for women 
in its upcoming 700-bed prison for adults with mental illnesses 
<http://www.doc.wa.gov/about/business/capital-planning/capacity.htm> built 
on a now-closed juvenile detention center, and requested additional 
money to add another 16 beds to WCCW. (It also requested funds to add 
114 beds in minimum security men's prisons.)

Indiana is not planning to increase prison beds for women anytime soon. 
But, reflects Schmidt, this doesn't mean that incarcerated women should 
continue to be ignored in decarceration efforts. "We need to address and 
repair the systemic problems that foster crime: poverty, abuse, 
addiction, mental illness, un/underemployment, lack of [or] inadequate 
housing, food, education, skills training," she said. Otherwise, she 
predicts that the numbers of women sent to jail and prison will continue 
to grow.

"How many women do we need to lock up before we do something to change 
it?" Schmidt asked. "Do we have to surpass the million mark like men, in 
order to have large numbers of women released from captivity, or before 
powerful leaders take notice and redeem the error of the system's ways?"

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863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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