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Women Prisoners Face 'Extra Level Of Difficulty' In Re-entering Society

Heather Jarvis prepared to leave the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Oh., after nearly 10 years and substance abuse treatment, professional development, and earning an associate’s degree. “Sometimes, I’m just so scared that it’s not enough,” Jarvis told The Associated Press. Jarvis, 32, is part of the fastest-growing prison population one of more than 190,000 women held in some form of confinement. Their numbers grew by more than 500% between 1980 and 2021, more than twice the growth rate for men, says The Sentencing Project. The sharp increase is partially due to increased penalties and mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession and trafficking that many states have implemented over decades. Approximately 25% of incarcerated women are in prison for drug-related crimes, compared to 12% of men. Ohio — an epicenter of the opioid crisis — is among the states that experienced the most dramatic jump in female prisoners.

“Women’s incarceration grew very rapidly in the early 2000s, but it took a good decade or so before the field really acknowledged the widening gap between available programs and services and the number of women who need them,” said Wendy Sawyer of the Prison Policy Initiative. That makes the journey harder for women, who confront different challenges than their male counterparts. “Women face all of the same barriers that men face in reentry — securing employment, housing, and transportation, and reestablishing family connections — but with an extra level of difficulty,” Sawyer said. “For example, housing ... often forces women to choose between homelessness and returning to abusive situations, while in contrast, many men return to female supports: mothers, wives, girlfriends.” “There is more stigma attached to a woman getting involved in a crime or using drugs than there is men,” said Linda Janes of Alvis House, a Columbus-based nonprofit that works with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections to provide reentry services, including housing and job assistance.


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