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PPI Cites 'Devastating' Ripple Effects Of Locking Up 200K Women

Some 190,600 women and girls are locked up in the U.S. on any given day. The Prison Policy Initiative's new report Women’s Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2024, offers the most recent, comprehensive data on where women are incarcerated and why, as well as detailed data on their demographic makeup and health.

Women experience a dramatically different justice system than men do. PPI says the new edition of the report, first published in 2017, includes "richly-annotated data visualizations" about women behind bars.

“The unique experiences of women in the criminal legal system are obscured by those of men, treated as an afterthought,” said Aleks Kajstura, co-author of the report. “While incarceration impacts all people, tearing them away from their families, damaging their health, and putting an additional financial strain on those already living on a razor’s edge, the criminal legal system is particularly harsh for women in unique and damaging ways.”

“The data in this report should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers. Mass incarceration is failing everyone in the country — and when the country locks up women, the ripple effects are especially devastating,” said PPI's Wendy Sawyer, co-author of the report. “Instead of continuing with this failed policy, they should work to address the issues that get women locked up in the first place — poverty, unmet physical and mental health needs, and the over-policing of Black women and girls.”

The report examines the important role of jails in women’s incarceration. 93,000 women are held in jails, and the majority— 51,000 — have not been convicted of a crime. Unaffordable cash bail and a system that funnels them into jails after conviction are likely responsible for so many women being held in these facilities

Jails can be especially deadly for women, with high rates of death from suicide and drug or alcohol intoxication. Because they’re designed for shorter stays, jails are poorly positioned to provide health care for women, and jails make it difficult for women to stay in touch with their families, charging high rates for phone calls and restricting mail.

Women are held in 446 state prisons, 27 federal prisons, 3,116 local jails, 1,323 juvenile correctional facilities, 80 Indian country jails, and 80 immigration detention facilities, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories. 

Some 58% 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 — making it likely that incarceration uprooted their children and led to termination of parental rights, permanently breaking up their families.

An additional 808,700 women are on probation or parole. PPI says "they are forced to live under a complex set of rules and restrictions that set them up to fail and threaten them with reincarceration."


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