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Spike in female prisoners is move in the wrong direction, experts say

The number of women in state or federal prison increased by almost 5% from the end of 2021 to the end of 2022.
Spike in female prisoners is move in the wrong direction, experts say
Posted at 4:27 PM, Dec 09, 2023

For the first time in nearly a decade, the number of people in U.S. prisons increased - but, new data shows the increase was much bigger for women sent to prison. 

"It's really disturbing that we're moving in the wrong direction. That for almost a decade we've been reducing the prison population, said Nazgol Ghadnoosh, Co-Director of Research at the Sentencing Project, which is a research and advocacy organization. 

Ghadnoosh says most women are convicted of non-violent crimes - like property or drug-related crimes - and these crimes are often considered by experts to be crimes of poverty or addiction.  

The Bureau of Justice Statistics just released its report on incarceration numbers from 2022, and found that for the first time since 2013, the U.S. prison population increased nationally by nearly 2%. 

One of the most notable statistics to researchers in this report: the number of women in state or federal prison increased by almost 5% from the end of 2021 to the end of 2022.  

"It wasn't just a couple states that were influencing the national numbers. It was 37 states, and the federal system had more women prisoners in 2022 compared to 2021," said Ghadnoosh.  

"A lot of people don't understand that the system, it was only designed for men, but unfortunately now women are going through those same experiences," said Robyn Hasan Simpson, the Executive Director of the Atlanta-based non-profit Women on the Rise. 

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Hasan Simpson was one of those women. She spent a decade in the system. Now, she’s spending her time helping formerly incarcerated women get their lives on a positive road through her non-profit. 

"We try to educate women on the things that they need to actually help them address why they went to prison in the first place," said Hasan Simpson. 

She said she was not surprised to see the marked increase in women being incarcerated. She has seen an increase in her work every day, and she believes it's because more women carry most of the family responsibility and often do so alone, or with less pay. 

"Look at the cost of daycare alone. You know, if you think of that, the cost of daycare, rent, food's going up. So, everything is increasing. But the rate of pay that people are receiving is not. We call it criminalizing poverty," said Hasan Simpson. 

She said that's what led her to be incarcerated. 

"Me being on my own, having a child of my own, and leaving me to where I could not find any resources to actually help me and help my help my daughter to be able to, you know, live our lives ... it resorted to me, to actually do something that landed me ten years away from her, ten years out of my life," said Hasan Simpson. 

It's why both the Sentencing Project and Women on the Rise advocate for less time behind bars and more time addressing systemic issues within a community. 

"We really need to consider: for many crimes, does the person need to be incarcerated at all or is what they need some kind of, treatment services for a substance use problem?" said Ghadnoosh. 

Advocates say reevaluating policing practices, and changing sentencing rules, are much needed reforms from leaders, but on the grassroots level. Hasan Simpson said seeing fewer women incarcerated starts with community support and resources to treat mental trauma. 

"If you actually rehabilitate people the way it should be done when they come out, then the crime rates will not continue to rise, and then people can actually come out and have a better chance at life," said Simpson.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has published its full report online

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