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
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.