The number of women in prison in the US grew by four percent between 2003 and 2004, nearly double the increase among male prisoners. The Associated Press reports that 7 percent of all inmates are now women, and women account for almost one-quarter of all arrests.
Paige M. Harrison, co-author of a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, linked the increase in incarcerated women to increased arrests of women for drug crimes, violent crime, and fraud, reports the Washington Post, as well as to longer sentences. The Sentencing Project attributes the increase to the sentencing policies of the so-called war on drugs, and raised questions about United States incarceration policies, as the US incarceration rate is 25 percent higher than any other nation, according to the Post.
Once incarcerated, women’s needs are often overlooked in the prison system, as they compete with sex offenders and death-row inmates for limited funding. Louise Wolfgramm, president of Amicus, a Minneapolis-based program assisting criminal offenders, told the Associated Press that women inmates “need to focus more on learning healthy relationships and developing the skills to navigate through the messy lives they’ve been enveloped in.” Between 66 and 90 percent of women inmates have children, and advocates say that maintaining contact with children is key to reducing future crime rates, according to the Associated Press. Mary Scully Whitaker, an organizer of the five-day conference on adult and juvenile women inmates, told the Associated Press that the shortfall in funds for treatment programs aimed at women is “short-sighted. Women respond well to treatment.”