June 25, 2018

Female prison population eight times higher than in 1980

Sentencing Project  - 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 prison population stands nearly eight times higher than in 1980. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.

Between 1980 and 2016, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 213,722 in 2016.

Race and Ethnicity in Prisons

  • In 2016, the imprisonment rate for African American women (96 per 100,000) was twice the rate of imprisonment for white women (49 per 100,000).3)
  • Hispanic women were imprisoned at 1.4 times the rate of white women (67 vs. 49 per 100,000).4)
  • The rate of imprisonment for African American women has been declining since 2000, while the rate of imprisonment for white and Hispanic women continues to rise.
  • Between 2000 and 2016, the rate of imprisonment in state and federal prisons declined by 53% for black women, while the rate of imprisonment for white women rose by 44%.
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