In the Blog

Women in prison

May 21st, 2008     by Allison Martell     Comments

Feministing’s recent series of guest posts from Justice Now, a women’s prison justice group, has really got me thinking. The poster at the top of this most recent post lays it out:

Increase of Women in Prison, 1980s to present: 14,000 to 140,000. Female offenders, mostly black women, are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. 80% of them are imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses.

I’m no expert, but my guess would be that much of this stems from the United States’ mandatory minimums on crack cocaine. Crack, which is stereotypically associated with people of colour, carries much tougher penalties than powdered cocaine, associated with the white elite. And even though the majority of crack users are white, most people who go to jail for crack use are Black. (I double-checked these points with this great fact sheet from PublicEye.org on racism in the American justice system.)

Justice Now has also given us a sense of what happens to women once they’re in the prison system, from creepy “gender responsiveness” training, to restrictive and gendered occupational training, to sterilization.

And all this mistreatment is expensive - which brings me to another blog post that I’ve been thinking about, on “million dollar blocks”:

…individual city blocks where more than one million dollars per block per year are spent to incarcerate individuals from that block. […] A million dollars, coincidentally, is roughly what it would cost to pay for one patrol officer, twenty-four hours a day, every day for one year.

Not to mention a whole lot of social services.

Interested in prison justice closer to home? Prisonjustice.ca pulls together a lot of information on the Canadian justice system; Elizabeth Fry Societies work on women in prison; and Joint Effort is a Vancouver-based women prisoners’ advocacy group. See a few more groups listed here; please post more resources in comments.

Tags: activist report, race and racism

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