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Six Times More Female Inmates Than There Were In 1980

Over the past 25 years, there has been a "profound change" in the involvement of women in the criminal justice system. It is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women, reports The Sentencing Project.


The female incarcerated population stands over six times higher than it was in 1980. Over half (58%) of imprisoned women in state prisons have a child under 18.


Between 1980 and 2021, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 525%, rising from 26,326 in 1980 to 168,449 in 2021. While 2020 saw a substantial downsizing in prisons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend reversed with a 10% increase in 2021.


Though many more men are in prison than women, the rate of growth for female imprisonment has been twice as high as that of men since 1980. There are about 976,000 women under the supervision of the criminal justice system.


The women's incarceration rate varies greatly from state to state. The state with the highest rate of female imprisonment is Idaho and the state with the lowest incarceration rate of women is Massachusett.


Women in state prisons are more likely than men to be incarcerated for a drug or property offense. Twenty-five percent of women in prison have been convicted of a drug offense, compared to 12% of men in prison; 19% of incarcerated women have been convicted of a property crime, compared to 13% among incarcerated men.


e proportion of imprisoned women convicted of a drug offense has increased from 12% in 1986 to 25% in 2020.


Of the 36,479 youth in residential placement on a typical day, 15% (6,598) are girls. As with boys, girls are confined much less frequently than at the start of the century. In 2001,15,104 girls were confined in residential placement on an average day. By 2019, this figure had been cut by two-thirds.


African American and Native American girls are much more likely to be incarcerated than Asian, white, and Latinx girls. The placement rate for all girls is 35 per 100,000 girls between ages 10 and 17). The placement rate for Asian girls is 4 per 100,000; for white girls is 24 per 100,000; and Latinx girls is 27 per 100,000.


African American girls are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be incarcerated (77 per 100,000), and Native American girls are more than four times as likely (112 per 100,000).


Thirty-four percent of youth in placement for status offenses (such as truancy and curfew violations) are girls. More than half of youth incarcerated for running away are girls.


In 2019, girls in the youth justice system were detained after their arrest 41,016 times and committed to out-of-home placement after their adjudication 9,061 times. In 1990, girls comprised 18% of all youth arrests, a proportion that grew to 31% in 2019.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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