As the nation wrestles with the weight of mass incarceration and its impact on individuals and communities, a study released Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice and Safety and Justice Challenge explores a growing epidemic: the steady rise of incarcerated women.
The report, titled Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform, shows that since 1970, the number of women held in local jails has increased from under 8,000 to nearly 110,000.
Poor women are affected the most, according to the study. Approximately two-thirds of women in jail are of color: 44 percent are Black, 15 percent are Hispanic, and five percent are of other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Thirty-six percent of women in jail identify as White.
So-called broken windows policing serves as one of the many probable causes leading to the significant hike of women in jail. In the 1990s, policing began to focus on responding to quality-of-life or low-level offenses, along with increased rates for drug possession. Today, 82 percent of women are in jail for nonviolent crimes.
Since women are more likely to commit non-violent crimes or minor offenses such as drug possession, the rate of women in jail dramatically increased. Affiliating with romantic partners, accused of committing some of the offenses, also helps to sweep women into the system, experts say.
Elizabeth Swavola, a senior program associate at Vera, and one of the authors of the study, spoke to NewsOne about why it was necessary to delve into research that explored this unfamiliar subject.
“Oftentimes when we talk about mass incarceration, we focus on prisons, not local jails,” she said. “When we looked at women, there was a 14-fold increase.”
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