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New Panel Focuses On Challenges Of Women In Justice System

Women are as likely as men to be victims of violent crime. They account for more than a quarter of adult arrests. The rate of women’s jail incarceration has been edging up as the men’s rate has dropped. 

While men still comprise a disproportionate share of people in the criminal justice system, the trends for women underlie the launch of a Council on Criminal Justice initiative to raise awareness of the needs of women in the criminal justice system and build consensus for evidence-based reforms.

The nonpartisan national Women’s Justice Commission, is chaired by Loretta Lynch, who championed women’s justice issues as U.S. Attorney General, and includes 15 other leaders representing law enforcement, legislative offices, courts, corrections, medicine, research, advocacy, and affected individuals.

Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt, a longtime advocate for dealing with generational trauma among women due to substance abuse and mental health issues, is the project's senior adviser. The panel is visiting a program for justice-involved women in Brooklyn on Tuesday. 

“The unique challenges faced by women moving through our criminal justice system all too often go unseen and unheard,” said Lynch. “We can and must do better to reduce the flow of women into the justice system, help them maintain relationships with children and families during incarceration, and provide the support they need to thrive after release.”  

Among the findings:

  • Women make up a larger share of violent crime victims: 51% of all violent victimizations in 2022 compared to 41% of all victimizations in 1993, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey. 

  • The growth in arrest rates for women (41% higher in 2019 than in 1980) is due in part to a rise in arrest rates for violent crimes (317% higher in 2019 than 1980) and drug crimes (63% higher in 2019 than 1980). 

  • The incarceration rate for women in U.S. prisons and jails increased dramatically (+431%) from 1982 through 2007, and then flattened as the number of incarcerated men began to fall. Between 2010 and 2019, the female jail incarceration rate went up by 12%, while the male rate fell by 10%. As overall incarcerated populations rebounded in 2021 and 2022 after COVID-related reductions, the increase of the female populations outpaced those of men. 

  • More than half of the women in state and federal prisons are parents to minor children, and an estimated three of four women in local jails are mothers.

  • Most justice-involved women come from backgrounds of poverty and trauma, and they are more likely than justice-involved men to be victims of physical and sexual abuse, suffer severe substance use and mental health issues, and to have experienced homelessness in the year prior to incarceration.

The commission director is Stephanie Akhter. Support for the Women’s Justice Commission comes from Ford Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, the Joan Ganz Cooney & Holly Peterson Fund, The Just Trust, Ms. Foundation for Women, the Navigation Fund, the NFL, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Southern Company Foundation, and the Tow Foundation. The commission also receives support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Members in addition to Lynch are Courtney Bryan of the Center for Justice Innovation, Norma Cumpian of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, retired federal judge Nancy Gertner, Harris County, Tex., Sheriff Ed Gonzales, Leticia Longoria-Navarro of the Pathfinder Network, Idaho State Rep. Chris Mathias, former Missouri corrections director Anne Precythe, Utah Criminal Justice Center director Emily Salisbury, Topeka Sam of The Ladies of Hope Ministries, Brenda Smith of the Project on Addressing Prison Rape, Jillian Snider of the R Street Institute, Carolyn Sufrin of Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness of Incarcerated People, former San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar, Kentucky state Sen. Whitney Westfield and Pamela Winn of RestoreHER US.America. 


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