I haven’t had time to binge watch the new season of Orange is the New Black, but the Sentencing Project has compiled some interesting statistics regarding the real subject of women in prison (PDF).

Unsurprisingly, the US imprisons more women than any other place in the world, most of whom are low-level non-violent offenders, and many are there on drug related charges:

  • As of 2010, more than 1 million women were under the supervision of the criminal justice system.
  • In 2010, black women were incarcerated at nearly 3 times the rate of white women (133 versus 47 per 100,000). Hispanic women were incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women (77 versus 47 per 100,000).
  • Women in prison are more likely than are men to be victims of staff sexual misconduct. More than three-quarters of all reported staff sexual misconduct involves women who were victimized by male correctional staff.
  • 1 in 25 women in state prisons and 1 in 33 in federal prisons are pregnant when admitted to prison.  Women can be shackled during labor and delivery in all but 13 states.
  • Transgender inmates are almost always housed according to their birth gender. The two most common responses are housing transgender prisoners on the basis of their birth gender or placing them in isolation.

Incarceration is an expensive non-solution to the social problems of poverty and drug abuse that send women to prison.  The Women’s Prison Association says that in New York it costs $60,076 to incarcerate a woman for one year, more if they have to provide care for her children while she’s there.  Little or nothing is done to help them re-enter society on a functional level, and the rate of recidivism is nearly one third.  According to the WPA:

Incarceration is not only expensive in financial terms, it is tremendously destabilizing for the families and communities left behind. Mass incarceration contributes to the intergenerational cycles of poverty and incarceration that devastates many families and communities, especially amongst African-American populations.

Kudos to Jenji Kohan and Piper Kerman for shining a light on the cruel, disfunctional and expensive system that is drawing poor women in at an alarming rate.  I’m really looking forward to watching the new season.

FDL supports the passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act, which is designed to reduce the US prison population among non-violent offenders.

More on the Smarter Sentencing Act: