Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Women In Prison

Women in Prison: Where Health Care Can Be Deadly

Women Behind Bars by Silja Talvi

Why a book about women in prison?

Readers of Women Behind Bars might ask the logical question of why an entire book should be focused on female incarceration while men are still, by far, the majority of people getting arrested and locked up. To many criminologists and writers who cover prison issues, the percentage of women in prison is so small as to warrant little, if any, attention or analysis. (Indeed, at many of the prison-related conferences that I have attended over the years, prisoners are referred to by the male pronoun almost exclusively.)

This question is entirely valid, and deserves a response. Men do face unique issues and hardships in prison, and the overrepresentation of men of color (especially African Americans), the mentally ill, and poor people in general has been more of an overall focus in my work than women's issues in prison until this point.

The deeper I began to delve into the underlying reasons for the rapid growth of girls and women in lock-up, the more insight I gained into a world that few outsiders see, much less understand. Once I began to pay particularly close attention to the ways in which females in the criminal justice system were portrayed in the media, it became clear to me that stereotypes and judgments about "fallen women" from centuries ago were still holding fast.

There's much more to all of this, of course, from the overt medical neglect of women's chronic health needs; to the prevalence of sexual coercion and abuse in women's detention facilities (primarily at the hands of correctional officers, as opposed to other inmates); to the fact that girls and women enter the criminal justice system with far higher rates of drug abuse, sexual violence, childhood abuse, mental illness, and experiences with homelessness. Women are also being punished heavily with undeserved federal "conspiracy charges" for their general unwillingness (or inability) to "snitch" on their loved ones or friends in drug cases -- to the point that this has began to be known as the "girlfriend problem" in the criminal justice system.

Today, the number of girls and women doing time is utterly unprecedented in U.S. history. In 1977, there were just slightly more than 11,000 women in state or federal prison. By 2004, the number of women in prisons had increased by a breathtaking 757 percent. At the end of 2006, there were 203,100 women in jails, state and federal prisons, plus another 1,094,000 women on probation or parole, for a total of 1.3 million females under some form of correctional supervision. (Another 15,000-20,000 girls are being held in juvenile detention.) While Euro-American women still outnumber any other demographic group in jails and prisons, African American women are four times more likely to be locked up than their Euro-American counterparts. (Collectively, African American women and Latinas represent more than 60 percent of women doing time.)

The following excerpt provides just one woman's story from Women Behind Bars. She did not live to tell it, but I am able to share it with you here.


1 comment:

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