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Women in Prison

Although men far outnumber women in prison, women are the fastest growing population being imprisoned for drug offenses. New York State has the fourth largest female prison population in the nation, exceeded only by Texas, California, and Florida. 3,133 women were incarcerated in New York State prisons as of January 1, 2002. Eighty percent of the women who entered New York State prisons in 2000 were convicted of nonviolent drug or property offenses.

Eighty percent have a childhood history of physical and sexual abuse. More than 90% had experienced violent or sexual assault during their lifetime. Seventy-six percent of New York State women prisoners reported that they are mothers of over 6000 children.

Women of color, in particular, are disproportionately affected. Between 1986 and 1996, the number of women in prison for drug law violations increased by over 400%, for women of color, the rise was over 800%.

Eighty-two percent of Latina and 71% of African American women were sentenced due to drug offenses, compared with 41% of white women. In 1986, when Congress passed federal mandatory drug sentences, the average federal drug sentence for African Americans was 11% higher than for whites. Four years later, the average federal drug sentence for African Americans was 49% higher.

There are very few woman-centered treatment programs, such as Greenhope, in the country. Drug treatment was originally designed for men as was incarceration and, therefore, has inadequate analysis of the complex array of problems that lead to a woman's imprisonment and the many social and economic limitations she has to recovery and rehabilitation.

The underlying issues of domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, unsupported parenting responsibilities, inadequate housing, unemployment, illiteracy, and substance abuse are ignored and criminalized when judges are left with no discretion in their sentencing practices.

These social ills are laid at the feet of the prison industrial complex which is ill-equipped to address these problems and indeed, is not designed to do so. Community based corrections, designed for rehabilitation and accountability and not punishment, is the best alternative for women addicted to substances. Greenhope is committed to advocating for more woman-centered comprehensive treatment programs.



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