Drug Crimes and the Female Prison Population

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that the rate of incarceration for women has risen sharply since 1985. In fact, it has risen at a rate almost twice that of males. Women are a growing percentage of the people behind bars in America, and that has drawn the attention of criminal justice reform proponents.

When discussing criminal justice reform, much of the emphasis is on the sentences received by people for crimes that are nonviolent. White collar crimes and drug crimes are often punished severely, even when there is no element of violence. The ACLU reports that 40 percent of criminal convictions involving females are based on drug crimes. One member of Congress suggested that many of the women serving time are there because they were involved in relationships with drug dealers. The drug dealers would include the women's names in those reported to prosecutors in order to receive more lenient sentences.

Lengthy prison terms can make it nearly impossible to maintain relationships with your family. Some states have laws preventing mothers from regaining custody of their children if they are in jail for a certain amount of time. Drug possession and conspiracy laws can lead to extended prison stays, despite relatively minor participation in any criminal dealings. In addition to custody problems, the price of phone calls from prison, a topic we've discussed before, makes it cost prohibitive to keep in touch with children. Studies show that 38 percent of children maintain contact with their mothers in prison.

The arguments for criminal justice reform apply to both genders. There are concerns that are specific to women, however. It is important to consider the real consequences of our criminal justice system when setting policy.

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