Women Behind Bar: By the Numbers, ABC News Special 2020, Diane Sawyer

Diane Sawyer goes into prison over night and speaks with several women about their experience in prison, as well as why they are there. “Most of the women are mothers. 1 in 25 is pregnant when she goes in. Women are the fastest growing group of prisoners in the U.S. compared to men. 63% are jailed for non-violent crimes. 11.1% are in for murder.” [Women Behind Bar: By the Numbers, ABC News Special 2020] Most of the women to whom Sawyer speaks openly discuss how their children have been left behind.

“Female prison population is 49% white, 22% black and 17% Hispanic. White women are the fastest growing prison population, some experts say due to tougher drug laws for prescription pills and meth.” [Women Behind Bar: By the Numbers, ABC News Special 2020] However, it is critical to note that African-American women have been the fastest growing prison population for the last two to three decades due, in part, to tough sentencing drug laws for “drug mules” and sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine. “Despite [similar drug use rates reported by The National Institute on Drug Abuse for women in the 80s and 90s] and the steep rise in the number of women convicted of drug offenses, women of color are generally incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates than their white counterparts – African American women’s incarceration rates for all offenses – many of which are for drug-related offenses – has increased by 800% since 1986, compared to an increase of 400% for women of all races.” [Caught on the Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women and Families, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Brennan Center at NYU School of Law and Break the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs]. http://www.brennancenter.org/publication/caught-net-impact-drug-policies-women-families.

Whether men or women are ensnared in the criminal justice system at higher rates, or whether white women or black women are populating U.S. prisons cells at a faster rate, what is clear is that children living in the U.S. – white, African American and Latino – are experiencing parental incarceration at a higher rate than any other children in the world.  This ABC News Special 2020 provides an important look into the prison system and how it impacts women and their families. Here is the link to Women Behind Bar: By the Numbers, ABC News Special 2020:  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/nation-women-bars-diane-sawyer-numbers-29243655


Patricia Allard


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