/That’s not winning’ Report sheds light on skyrocketing female imprisonment

That’s not winning’ Report sheds light on skyrocketing female imprisonment

According to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based national advocacy organization, the top three challenges facing women are: burgeoning law enforcement, stricter drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers thatdisproportionately affect women. In Mississippi, the rate of female incarceration rose by 925 percent between 1978-2016 from 8 to 82 women per 100,000 female residents. Mississippi is now holding women at 1.5 times the national average. According to the most recent data, Mississippi was 14th among all states in terms of female incarceration rate as of 2016. In a Tuesday web panel, researchers and advocates from The Sentencing Project and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and two regional organizations in San Francisco and Nashville sought to compare national and regional statistics with specific projects they have undertaken in particular cities and regions. Panelists agreed that women and girls should seek solutions to their problems. Justice must be embedded in communities and not just the courts and its counterparts, foster care, juvenile-justice system, and government welfare programs. Jessica Nowlan, the executive director of San Francisco’s Young Women’s Freedom Center said that it is not freedom to have a young woman approach me and not be in jail. However, her children were taken away from her on Thursday. “That’s not winning.” According to Nazgol Ghandnoosh (a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project), 1.2 million girls and women are currently under the supervision of the criminal justice system. She said that most of these women have children. More than 60 percent of state prison women have at least one child below 18. Nationally, the rate of growth in incarcerated women is twice that of men. However, women only make up about 7 percent of the U.S. prison population. The current rate of imprisonment for African-American and Latina females is twice that of white women. According to The Sentencing Project, women are more likely to be imprisoned than men for violent offenses. In 2016, only 37% of women who were in state prisons were convicted for a violent crime. Ghandnoosh stated that these numbers are largely driven by state and local policies. This explains the wide range in imprisonment rates between states. Oklahoma is first at 149 per 100,000. Rhode Island and Massachusetts are second at 13 per 100,000. According to the Atlantic, in April, there were disparities in Mississippi’s resources for male and female inmates. According to the Mississippi Department of Correction, 13 vocational opportunities are available for men (such as welding technology and auto mechanic) and five for women (including cosmetology and Family Dynamics), which is described as an extended form of a home economics class. MDOC also offers programs for women, including a recent reentry workshop that Arianna Huffington (businesswoman and co-founder the Huffington Post) has backed. It uses “principles routinely used in the corporate world” and all women in MDOC state prisons are housed at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, Rankin County. Andrea James, the founder and executive director for the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, asked the question: “How can we change the system?” James stated, “It involves finding ways that pull back from current system and really engage the communities in taking back control.” “Involve communities in the decision-making process about justice for us. What do we envision our communities looking like?” Nowlan from the San Francisco-based Young Women’s Freedom Center gave a case study on work that young women in prison still need to do. She said, “There is still no housing, poverty, and they are still doing survival sex work.” She mentioned instances in which snatching phones and stealing laundry soap led to felony charges. The Freedom Center’s 25-year-old research has found a “huge correlation” between homelessness, incarceration and foster homes, juvenile justice systems and incarceration. Oleta Fitzgerald in Jackson is the Southern Regional Director for the Children’s Defense Fund. She argues that Mississippi’s plight, especially those of color, can be linked to a lack of economic opportunity. Fitzgerald said to Mississippi Today, “When poverty, gender, and race intersect, you have something.” According to Jennifer Riley Collins, executive director of ACLU of Mississippi, Mississippi is the poorest country in America. This means that many women who enter the criminal justice process are economically disadvantaged. They have little education and few job skills. Riley stated that women who leave prison must remain clean and sober, return as primary caregivers for their children, get a livable income, have reliable transportation and childcare, and find safe, sober housing for them and their children. All this happens while they are trying to fulfill requirements for community supervision and other public agencies like child welfare. Riley stated in a statement that women need a basic safety network: transportation, community spaces and housing, education, healthcare, employment and economic security. Riley stated that women are often forced to return to survival, and they are denied the chance to be restored, if they don’t have a safety net. James stated that “We don’t do anything — not even one thing — without first reaching out to the women, girls, and (families), who are inside the prison bunk.”