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Is Orange the New Black?

Facts About Women and Incarceration


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  1. While men have traditionally been seen as the primary population in U.S. prisons, women, in fact, are now incarcerated at nearly double the rate of men in this country.
  2. According to the Women’s Prison Association, the number of women behind bars has grown by more than 800 percent over the past thirty years. There are now more than 200,000 incarcerated women and over a million on probation. Two-thirds are convicted of nonviolent offenses, mostly drug-related offenses.
  3. Women of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. The Sentencing Project notes that the lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for all women to enter prison is 1 in 56; however, the chance of a woman being sent to prison varies by race. The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment was 1 in 18 for black women, 1 in 45 for Latinas, and 1 in 118 for white women
  4. Sexual abuse is a reality for many incarcerated women and this reality can be increased for certain populations, particularly lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women. Amnesty International "has documented categories of women who are likely targets for sexual abuse. Perceived or actual sexual orientation is one of four categories that make a female prisoner a more likely target for sexual abuse, as well as a target for retaliation when she reports that abuse.”
  5. Trans women who are incarcerated often face extreme discrimination. The National Center for Lesbian Rights reports that "Transsexual people who have not had genital surgery are generally classified according to their birth sex for purposes of prison housing, regardless of how long they may have lived as a member of the other gender, and regardless of how much other medical treatment they may have undergone--a situation which puts male-to-female transsexual women at great risk of sexual violence."
  6. It is legal to shackle a pregnant inmate while she is giving birth in more than 30 states. According to Nation Inside, “Shackling a woman by her wrists and ankles hampers her ability to move to alleviate the pain of her contractions. This increases stress on the woman’s body and may decrease the flow of oxygen to her fetus. Medical professionals, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Nurse-Midwives and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, believe that shackling incarcerated pregnant women during labor and delivery is unsafe and dangerous to the health and lives of the mother and the baby.”
  7. Women in prison struggle to receive basic health services, including but not limited to access to abortion services, pregnancy testing, prenatal care, and screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
  8. Almost three quarters of women in prison are already mothers. According to the Women in Prison Project, “Maintaining family ties can lessen the destructive aspects of parental incarceration by helping children process their mother’s absence, easing family reunification after release, bolstering children’s well-being and healthy development, and decreasing the likelihood that a mother will return to prison.” However, maintaining these connections during incarceration can be difficult.
  9. Upon release, formerly incarcerated women can face difficulties adjusting and disenfranchisement. Many women face barriers have trouble effectively re-entering society and providing for themselves and their families. Oftentimes they are restricted from governmental assistance that can help them to transition safely back to the outside world. 

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