Who are the women in the jails?

When most of us think about the women who are in the jails and the prisons we think of hardened criminals, violent, drug addicted women as portrayed in the media. What most women who are in jail look like though are much the same as many women who we see in our neighborhoods. We hold stereotypical images of who the women are that are behind bars in an increasingly alarming numbers mainly because we want to believe that it would never happen to us. The fact is though, most women behind bars are victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault and are incarcerated due to that very abuse.

The number of women in jails in the United States nearly tripled from 1990 to 2007. Federal statistics show that 55% of women incarcerated in jail have experienced physical or sexual abuse as adults or as children; of those who were abused, 68% were harmed by an intimate partner. More in-depth research has revealed that the number is much higher, up to 90% or more. Many of these women are in jail for something directly related to their victimization. They are survivors of incest or have multiple forms of trauma throughout their lifetimes, and usually have been abused by multiple people.

Also, people from marginalized communities- women of color, poor women, lesbians,  and women with mental health issues are disproportionately incarcerated, not because they’re more likely to commit crimes, but because of their lack of access to resources,  they are often using survival behaviors that often put them in harms way, landing them in jail..

About 70% of incarcerated women have children and many of them struggle to maintain a relationship with their children through letters, phone calls and visits despite tremendous barriers.

Most of the women are charged with or convicted of drug related or property crimes, many of which were directly or indirectly related to their experience of  multiple abuses and trauma’s in their life, beginning with their history of child sexual abuse. Many women are in the prison system for assaulting their partner, but the history of being assaulted by their partner is not taken into consideration. Most victims who fight back never get a chance to tell their story and talk about the history of abuse, neglect and trauma which has led them down the path that ended with them incarcerated.