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        dir="ltr"> <font size="-2"><a id="reader-domain" class="domain"
href="http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43465-efforts-to-decrease-prison-populations-are-leaving-women-behind">http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43465-efforts-to-decrease-prison-populations-are-leaving-women-behind</a></font>
        <h1 id="reader-title">Efforts to Decrease Prison Populations Are
          Leaving Women Behind</h1>
        <div id="reader-credits" class="credits">Victoria Law - February
          7, 2018<br>
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              <p>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.</p>
              <p>Schmid, who has spent many of these years studying mass
                incarceration as well as <a
href="https://abolitionjournal.org/crafting-the-perfect-woman-how-gynecology-obstetrics-and-american-prisons-operate-to-construct-and-control-women/"
                  target="_blank">Indiana's history of female
                  incarceration</a>, 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 Truthout.</p>
              <p>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 "<a
                  href="https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/women_overtime.html#drugs"
                  target="_blank">The Gender Divide: Tracking Women's
                  State Prison Growth</a>," 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.</p>
              <p>
              </p>
              <h3>Women have become the fastest-growing segment of the
                incarcerated population.</h3>
              <p>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.</p>
              <p>"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."</p>
              <h2>Fewer Diversions and Lengthy Sentences for Women</h2>
              <p>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, <a
href="https://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/women-and-criminal-justice/wyomings-boot-camp-program-young-first-time-offenders"
                  target="_blank">no similar option exists for women</a>,
                leaving no alternative but years in prison for the same
                conviction.</p>
              <p>In Oklahoma, which <a
href="http://doc.publishpath.com/oklahoma-no-2-in-the-nation-in-incarceration-in-2016"
                  target="_blank">continues to lead the nation in
                  women's incarceration</a> and where the women's prison
                population is outpacing that of men's prisons, the
                Department of Corrections recently instituted a <a
                  href="http://doc.ok.gov/female-offender-diversion-program"
                  target="_blank">diversion program for women facing
                  nonviolent charges</a> in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties.
                The program may keep some women out of prison moving
                forward, but doesn't apply retroactively to the <a
href="http://doc.publishpath.com/Websites/doc/images/Documents/Population/Count%20Sheet/DOC%20OMS%20Count%201162018.pdf"
                  target="_blank">3,082 women already behind bars</a>.</p>
              <p>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 <a
href="http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/40594-women-imprisoned-under-the-drug-war-speak-out-against-sessions-new-policy"
                  target="_blank">women in federal drug conspiracy cases</a> 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."</p>
              <p>Domestic violence -- and the accompanying coercion -- <a
href="https://rewire.news/article/2017/03/08/abuse-excuse-dismissing-domestic-violence-effects-criminal-court-system/"
                  target="_blank">plays a role in some cases</a>.
                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 <a
href="http://www.doc.wa.gov/docs/publications/reports/400-RE002-1707.pdf"
                  target="_blank">at 127 percent capacity</a>.</p>
              <h2>For Women, Petty Offenses in Prison Can Lead to More
                Time</h2>
              <p>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).</p>
              <p>"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.</p>
              <p>"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.</p>
              <p>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.</p>
              <p>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.</p>
              <h2>Cutting Away the Safety Net</h2>
              <p>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 <a
href="https://statusofwomendata.org/explore-the-data/state-data/oklahoma/"
                  target="_blank">ranks among the country's bottom four</a> 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.</p>
              <p>
              </p>
              <h3>Incarcerated women are often penalized for acts that
                are not illegal outside prison walls.</h3>
              <p>That's still better than <a
                  href="https://statusofwomendata.org/explore-the-data/state-data/texas/"
                  target="_blank">Texas, where women earn 77.8 cents for
                  every male dollar</a> 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 <a
href="http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/texas-politics/texas-legislature/article/State-budget-writers-Four-prisons-may-now-be-up-10986674.php"
                  target="_blank">allowed the state to close four men's
                  prisons</a>.</p>
              <p>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 <a
href="http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43458-a-legal-battle-is-mounting-against-the-gop-s-attack-on-medicaid"
                  target="_blank">Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has
                  overhauled Medicaid</a>, imposing work requirements on
                some recipients, as well as monthly premiums. Bevin also
                issued an <a
href="http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/369212-kentucky-gov-threatens-to-end-medicaid-expansion"
                  target="_blank">executive order ending the state's
                  Medicaid expansion</a> 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 <a
href="https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/income.html" target="_blank">poverty,
                  combined with lack of opportunity, is often a pathway
                  to prison</a>; dismantling the social safety net
                pushes even more people down that pathway.</p>
              <p>In Indiana, which boasts a <a
href="http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/Indiana%20Department%20of%20Correction%20Jan%202018%20Total%20Population%20Summary.pdf"
                  target="_blank">women's prison population of over
                  2,382</a>, women outside of prison earn <a
href="https://statusofwomendata.org/explore-the-data/state-data/indiana/"
                  target="_blank">75.6 cents for every male dollar</a>;
                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.</p>
              <p>"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."</p>
              <p>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 <a
href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2015/03/indiana_women_s_prison_a_revisionist_history.html"
                  target="_blank">college program</a>. 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 <a
                  href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25156422"
                  target="_blank">without support systems on the outside</a> are
                at heightened risk for reincarceration.</p>
              <p>"You need a support system," Brittany reflected. "It's
                hard to do it by yourself."</p>
              <h2>Increasing Women's Prison Populations May Lead to More
                Women's Prisons</h2>
              <p>In Washington State, which <a
href="http://realchangenews.org/2015/02/04/inmates-deserve-hope-bringing-parole-back-washington-state-would-play-crucial-part"
                  target="_blank">eliminated parole in 1984</a>, the
                women's prison population has increased 4 percent since
                2009. The state's two women's prisons <a
href="http://www.doc.wa.gov/docs/publications/reports/400-RE002-1707.pdf"
                  target="_blank">have been overcrowded for years</a>.
                The Washington Correction Center for Women (WCCW) is <a
href="http://www.doc.wa.gov/docs/publications/reports/400-RE002-1707.pdf"
                  target="_blank">over capacity by more than 200 people</a>.
                The women there are constantly at risk of being
                transferred to the less-crowded (but still slightly over
                capacity) Mission Creek Corrections Center.</p>
              <p>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 <a
href="http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/39622-double-punishment-after-prison-moms-face-legal-battles-to-reunite-with-kids"
                  target="_blank">avoid having her parental rights
                  terminated</a>, 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.</p>
              <p>
              </p>
              <h3>Women's incarceration is connected with the way in
                which supportive systems have diminished in recent
                decades.</h3>
              <p>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.</p>
              <p>Even then, the state's women's prisons remain at
                capacity. According to its <a
href="https://ofm.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/budget/statebudget/decisionpackages/2018supp/310.pdf"
                  target="_blank">2018 operating budget request</a>, 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 <a
href="http://www.doc.wa.gov/about/business/capital-planning/capacity.htm"
                  target="_blank">700-bed prison for adults with mental
                  illnesses</a> 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.)</p>
              <p>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.</p>
              <p>"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?"</p>
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