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As Pandemic Fades, More Women, Girls Are Behind Bars

Reforming the criminal legal system has been a rallying cry among advocates, a growing number of prosecutors, and some lawmakers, yet the number of incarcerated girls and women continues to increase, reports Capital B. At the height of the pandemic, there was a 37% drop in the jail and prison population of girls and women. Stay-at-home orders and slowdowns to routine court proceedings contributed to the decrease, according to 2021 data analyzed by Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) in “Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie." As the system returned to regular operations, the number of incarcerated girls and women climbed 22% and back to pre-pandemic numbers.


The report underscores the decades-long repercussions of the war on drugs and the disproportionate impact on Black communities. Harsh sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses sent many Black men and boys to federal and state prison at record-setting rates. Over time, those same laws hit Black girls and women, too. There are 172,700 women and girls incarcerated in jails and prisons . That includes nearly 27% — 46,300 — who haven’t been convicted of a crime and either cannot afford or were denied bail. Of that percentage, 14,000 are waiting to go to trial for a drug-related offense. More women are entering the criminal legal system, in part, because of the continuing war on drugs, according to the report. "During the height of the war on drugs, especially in New York City, whole communities and families were getting swept up into indictments with 50 co-defendants,” said Andrea James of The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. “So when you think about the absolute devastation that the criminal legal system has had in — and the disruption that it has caused — in Black communities, this is it.”

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