The Facts


The US prison system was designed to house a majority male population, and is operated by primarily male officers and officials.

Despite the skyrocketing incarceration rates among women, most systems have failed to comprehensively adopt gender responsive policies and programs due to the fact that they represent less than 8% of the total US prison population.  

As a result, the unique risks, strengths and needs of women are often eclipsed throughout the justice system -- and it is impacting population growth. 

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Women are the Fastest Growing Justice Population in the US:  
Rising 834% since 1978 

Important Facts

Disproportionate Histories of Abuse and Trauma

  •  ​​Justice involved women are more likely to report histories of sexual victimization and trauma, and continue to be vulnerable to victimization within correctional settings.

  • Trauma such as sexual victimization is often linked to mental health, substance abuse, and relationship difficulties.

  • Women with histories of abuse and neglect are 77% more likely to be arrested as an adult than their peers who were not abused.
​​Higher Rates of Reported Mental Illness
  • ​​​​Justice-involved women are more likely to experience co-occurring disorders; in particular, substance abuse problems tend to be interlinked with trauma and/or mental health issues.

  • The majority of women who suffer from mental illness also have substance abuse disorders.
  • Women experience mental illness differently than men; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are all more prevalent in justice-involved women than justice-involved men.
​​Disproportionate Involvement of Women of Color
  •  ​African American women are incarcerated at twice the rate of white women, and rates among Hispanic women are 1.2 times higher.

  • Black females aged 18 to 19 are three times more likely to be imprisoned than white females, Hispanic females in this age group are twice as likely to be imprisoned than white females.
  • 1 in every 18 African American women will go to prison during their lifetime. This is far greater than the rates for white women and Latinas - 1 in 111 women and 1 in 45 women, respectively.
​​Higher Rates of Substance Abuse & Drug Crimes

  • ​​ A large proportion of justice-involved women have abused substances or have engaged in criminal behavior while under the influence and/or to support their drug use.

  • Over 60% of women reported a drug dependence or abuse problem in the year prior to their incarceration.

  • Current substance abuse among women is a strong direct predictor of prison readmission.​
 More Likely to be the Custodial Parent of their Children    
  • More than 60% of women in prison are parents, and are more likely than men to serve as the custodial parent of their children. 
  • Having a parent in prison can have an impact on a child’s mental health, social behavior, and educational prospects.
  • Children of incarcerated mothers are at greater risk of dropping out of school and academic challenges.
Higher Rates of Poverty & Unemployment
  • Women report greater levels of poverty than men and less employment history immediately preceding incarceration.

  • Formerly incarcerated women face greater challenges securing employment than formerly incarcerated men.

  • These factors are particularly problematic when considering that women are more likely to have child-rearing responsibilities, particularly as single mothers.