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US Prison Reform: Why Are Incarcerated Women Being Ignored?

Today in U.S. prisons, women are the fastest-growing population. However, the effect this has on their prison families has been extensively disregarded. This was an issue discussed at a New York conference held Wednesday.

Vagina Monologues Production at New York's Taconic Correctional Facility
Vagina Monologues Production at New York’s Taconic Correctional Facility for Women. Image Source: Huffington Post

Steps toward putting into place long-term solutions for women in prisons and their children and families remain too few and far between, experts pointed out at a three-person panel. This was for an unveiling of a new action aimed at rectifying the criminal justice system to better serve women prisoners

Soffiyah Elijah, the executive director of the Alliance of Families for Justice said:

The damage this system does to the individual, it also does to their family. The damage it does to the family, it also does to the community—and the damage it does to that community, it does to our society as well.

NPR Report Shows Women Disciplined Harsher Than Men in Prisons

Foundations Created to Better Serve Women in Prisons in the US

Alliance of Families for Justice

Alliance of Families for Justice was established in NY in 2016. The mission of AFJ is to support the families of incarcerated people and people with criminal records. The goals are to:

  • Empower them as advocates
  • Enable them to organize their voting power to accomplish fundamental changes

New York Women’s Foundation

New York Women’s Foundation generates an equitable and just future for imprisoned women and their families. This is done by uniting a cross-cultural alliance that devotes action and invests in bold, community-led solutions across all of New York City.

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This foundation systematized the panel. It was held to launch the group’s Justice Initiative & Collaborative Fund. It’s a seven-year initiative that focuses on alleviating the effects of incarceration on women and their families in the New York City. The goal is to make them better.

Check out the official press release

Vera Institute of Justice

Vera Institute of Justice is on a mission to quickly improve the US justice systems. They want to build it up so that it:

  • Promotes safety
  • Ensures fairness
  • Strengthen communities

The foundation notes:

We work with others who share our vision to tackle the most pressing injustices of our day—from the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, racial disparities, and the loss of public trust in law enforcement, to the unmet needs of the vulnerable, the marginalized, and those harmed by crime and violence.

MacArthur Foundation Safety Justice Challenge

The MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge provides support to local leaders from across the country who are determined to tackle one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America.

They want to end the misuse and overuse of jails and prisons, to bring an end to mass incarceration

#LetItFlow Leads Social Movement to Treat Incarcerated Women with Dignity

Report Shows Important Facts About Women in Prisons in the US

Both the Vera Institute of Justice and the Safety Justice Challenge, in 2016, released a report that shows the number of women in local jails in the United States was almost 14 times what it was in the 1970s.

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This is a much higher growth rate than that of men.

There is also a very informative and yet very shocking fact sheet that can be downloaded here: http://www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/overlooked-women-and-jails-fact-sheet-web.pdf

Crimes rates have declined nationwide, then why have the incarceration of women prisoners increased?

Currently, in the U.S., about 80 percent of women in jail are mothers with young children, and many are single moms. According to the Vera report, Eighty-two percent of women in jails suffer from alcohol or drug addiction, and many of them are poor and struggle with mental health issues.

They are often jailed and charged with minor offenses and have not been convicted.

For many of the women inmates they were either raised or came from rural communities, and now researchers are beginning to explore solutions. J

Just this week, the Urban Institute released a study examining a pilot project in Tennessee that aims to address the needs of incarcerated women from rural communities.

Through the Justice Initiative & Collaborative Fund, The New York Women’s Foundation plans to invest in community-based programs that include alternatives to incarceration for women and assistance to the families of jailed women.

Rates of Women Incarceration Worldwide Higher Than Population Growth

This will be in collaboration with other foundations, nonprofit groups, and representatives from government, the private sector, and academia.

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One big and key focus will be racial disparities in the New York’s justice system.  This seems to have have landed a unequal number of African-American and Hispanic women behind bars.

Another immense priority is expediting women’s removal from Rikers Island. The city’s main jail complex that has earned a national reputation for neglect and abuse of incarcerated people.

Jonathan Lippman, a former Chief Judge of New York and the head of a commission that recommended the closure of Rikers.

He also that he was giving his full support for the initiative at the event held on Wednesday. Lippman said:

Women don’t belong (in Rikers Island). The vast majority there are nonviolent, and there are definitely better places for them to be than in that miserable facility.

Bill de Blasi, New York Mayor announced last year that the jail could be closed by 2027.

Overall, the experts say it’s not about improving prison conditions but about limiting the number of women sent to prison in the first place.

Our justice system is complexity broken and in desperate need of not just change, but thorough reform.

A great place to start would be the provision of fair and equal treatment for all inmates, especially for women, who’ve been ignored so far.

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Merri Wong
Merri Wong has had an interest in law and social studies since her early days in life. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies, and currently works as a freelance writer. Her writing portfolio includes numerous topics from reviews to relationships, from mental health to marriage. Merri currently helps report the news for Prison Rideshare Network.