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Incarcerated Women and Girls

June 06, 2019
Over the past quarter century, there has been a profound change in the involvement of women within the criminal justice system. This is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women.

Over the past quarter century, there has been a profound change in the involvement of women within the criminal justice system. This is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women. The female incarcerated population stands over seven times higher than in 1980. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.1)Glaze, L. E., and Maruschak, L. M. (2009). Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Between 1980 and 2019, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 222,455 in 2019.

Rise in Women’s Incarceration, 1980-2019
*Prison figures are from year-end 2019 while jail figure is from year-end 2018, the latest available data from the sources used. Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics: Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States 1850-1984 (1986); Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear Series (1997-2018), Prisoners Series (1986-2019). Washington, DC.

Though many more men are in prison than women, the rate of growth for female imprisonment has been twice as high as that of men since 1980. There are 1.2 million women under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

Women Under Control of the U.S. Corrections System, 2018-2019
Note: Prison data are from year-end 2019 and other data are from year-end 2018, the latest available data from the sources used. Sources: Carson, E.A. (2020). Prisoners in 2019. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Zeng, Z. (2020). Jail Inmates in 2018. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Kaeble, D. & Alper, M. (2020). Probation and Parole in the United States, 2017-2018. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Jail

Race and Ethnicity in Prisons

  • In 2019, the imprisonment rate for African American women (83 per 100,000) was over 1.7 times the rate of imprisonment for white women (48 per 100,000).
  • Latinx women were imprisoned at 1.3 times the rate of white women (63 vs. 48 per 100,000).
  • The rate of imprisonment for African American women has been declining since 2000, while the rate of imprisonment for white and Latinx women has increased.
  • Between 2000 and 2019, the rate of imprisonment in state and federal prisons declined by 60% for black women, while the rate of imprisonment for white women rose by 41%.
Female Imprisonment Rate per 100,000, by Race and Ethnicity, 2000-2019
Source: Prisoners Series. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Imprisonment Rates by Gender, Race, and Ethnicity per 100,000: 2000 vs. 2019
2000 2019 % Change
White Women 34 48 41% increase
Men 449 385 14% decrease
African American Women 205 83 60% decrease
Men 3,457 2,203 36% decrease
Latinx Women 60 63 5% increase
  Men 1,220 979 20% decrease
Source: Prisoners Series. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

State Variation

The rate at which women are incarcerated varies greatly from state to state. At the national level, 61 out of every 100,000 women were in prison in 2019. The state with the highest rate of female imprisonment is Idaho (138) and the state with the lowest incarceration rate of females is Massachusetts (10).

Highest and Lowest Female State Imprisonment Rates (per 100,000), 2019
Source: Bronson, J. and Carson, E.A. (2019). Prisoners in 2017. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Offense Types for Men and Women in State Prisons

  • Women in state prisons are more likely than men to be incarcerated for a drug or property offense. Twenty-six percent of women in prison have been convicted of a drug offense, compared to 13% of men in prison; 24% of incarcerated women have been convicted of a property crime, compared to 16% among incarcerated men.
  • The proportion of imprisoned women convicted of a drug offense has increased from 12% in 1986 to 26% in 2018.
Offense Type by Gender in State Prisons, 2018
Carson, E.A. (2020). Prisoners in 2019. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Incarcerated Girls

  • Of the 43,580 youth in residential placement, 15% (6,598) are girls. 2)Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2019). “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/ Totals reflect data as of late October 2017. One year later, there were 14 percent fewer youth in replacement, but their genders are not reported.3)Puzzanchera, C., Hockenberry, S., Sladky, T.J., and Kang, W. (2020). “Juvenile Residential Facility Census Databook.” Available: https://www. ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/jrfcdb/
  • As with boys, girls are confined considerably less frequently than at the start of the century. In 2001, 15,104 girls were confined in residential placement settings. By 2017, this figure had been cut by more than half.4)Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2019). “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/ Totals reflect data as of late October 2017. One year later, there were 14 percent fewer youth in replacement, but their genders are not reported.
  • African American and Native girls are much more likely to be incarcerated than Asian, white, and Hispanic girls. The placement rate for all girls is 43 per 100,000 girls (those between ages 10 and 17),5)Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2019). “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/ Totals reflect data as of late October 2017. One year later, there were 14 percent fewer youth in replacement, but their genders are not reported. but the placement rate for Asian girls 3 per 100,000; for white girls is 29 per 100,000; and Hispanic girls is 31 per 100,000. African American girls are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be incarcerated (94 per 100,000), and Native girls are more than four times as likely (123 per 100,000).6)Author’s calculations of girls’ placement rate by race and ethnicity based on total US population for all girls aged 10 to 17, found at Puzzanchera, C., Sladky, A. and Kang, W. (2020). “Easy Access to Juvenile Populations: 1990-2019.” Online. Available: https://www.ojjdp. gov/ojstatbb/ezapop/. Other rate calculations among youth in this report are based on youth aged 10 through the upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction. This age is typically 17 years old, but not in every state.
  • Though just 15% of incarcerated youth are girls, they make up a much higher proportion of those incarcerated for the lowest level offenses. Thirty-six percent of youth incarcerated for status offenses (such as truancy and curfew violations) are girls. More than half of youth incarcerated for running away are girls. Overall, one-third of incarcerated girls are held for status offenses or for violating the terms of their probation.7)Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2019). “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/ Totals reflect data as of late October 2017. One year later, there were 14 percent fewer youth in replacement, but their genders are not reported.
Highest and Lowest State Rates of Confinement for Girls (per 100,000), 20178)Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2019). “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/ Totals reflect data as of late October 2017. One year later, there were 14 percent fewer youth in replacement, but their genders are not reported.
Highest Incarceration Rates
State Rate
Nebraska 166
Wyoming 143
Alaska 102
West Virginia 95
Idaho 81
Lowest Incarceration Rates
State Rate
Vermont 0
Connecticut 7
Massachusetts 9
New Jersey 11
North Carolina9)The placement rate for all states listed here, except North Carolina, is based on the population of all girls aged 10 to 17 in their respective states. In North Carolina, the rate is based on the population of girls age 10 to 15, a count taken prior to the implementation of legislation to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 17. 11
Source: Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., and Puzzanchera, C. (2017) “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Online. Available: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/.
Girls Comprise a Growing Proportion of All Teen Arrests, 1980-2018
Source: Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. (2019). “Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.” Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/

In 1990, girls comprised 20 percent of all youth arrests, a proportion that grew to 26 percent in 2000 and 30 percent in 2010. Since then, the proportion of all youth arrests by gender has been consistent.10)OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: brhttp://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/JAR_Display.asp?ID=qa05230&selOffenses=1. October 31, 2019

 

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