Report Documents Devastating Findings Regarding Female Incarceration in USA and Role of COVID-19 Pandemic

By Gracy Joslin

EASTHAMPTON, MA – “Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023”—a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, in collaboration with the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice—has revealed some devastating facts about female incarceration in the U.S., specifically highlighting the role of the COVID pandemic.

Not only is the United States “one of the top incarcerators of women in the world,” but of the 172,700 incarcerated females, more are held in jails than in state prisons, according to the PPI report.

This is particularly problematic, said PPI, because “jails are built for short stays, meaning that the disproportionate number of women locked up in jails (compared to incarcerated men) are stuck in facilities with worse healthcare and less programming.”

The report data revealed, “60 percent of women in jails under local control have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial” and that women’s incarceration has “grown at twice the pace of men’s incarceration.”

However, said PPI, the number of women incarcerated “fell significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” noting the decline in women’s incarceration numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic was due more to “systematic slowdowns.”

Thus, with the system up and running again, the trend is starting to reverse, and “more vulnerable women end up in prison,” predicted PPI.

The report pointed out many women were disadvantaged before being incarcerated, with “12 percent reporting homelessness before they turned 18; 19 percent in foster care at some point, and 43 percent from families that received welfare or other public assistance.”

Unemployment is a “major factor in leading women to interactions with the criminal legal system” as “53 percent of women were jobless in the month before the arrest that led to their incarceration,” the report detailed.

Also, the report documented more than half of the women “have physical/cognitive disabilities (50 percent) and/or mental illnesses (76 percent)” which they argue shows “the punitive approach state and local criminal legal systems have taken to people struggling with these serious health issues.”

The report also draws attention to incarceration’s role in breaking up families, chronicling “58 percent of women in state prisons are parents to minor children, and of those, most are single mothers who were living with their children prior to imprisonment.”

In response to the racial demographics revealed in the report, the author states, “Too often, low-income women are punished by laws criminalizing poverty and caught in the wide net of Broken Windows policing that harms families and communities.”

The full report can be found: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2023women.html

About The Author

Gracy is a 4th Year at UC Davis studying Political Science and minoring in Communications and Sociology. Post graduation plans include traveling and then eventually attending Law School.

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