Facts & Statistics


From 1986 to 1996, the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased from 2,370 to 23,700. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC Prisoners in 1997).

Shackling During Pregnancy

Shackling of all prisoners, including pregnant prisoners, is policy in federal prisons and the US Marshall Service and exists in almost all state prisons. Shackling during labor may cause complications during delivery such as hemorrhage or decreased fetal heart rate. If a caesarian section is needed, a delay of even 5 minutes may result in permanent brain damage to the baby.

Lack of Adequate or Appropriate Mental Health Services

  • 48-88% of women inmates experienced sexual or physical abuse before coming to prison, and suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Very few prison systems provide counseling.
  • Women attempting to access mental health services are routinely given medication without opportunity to undergo psychotherapeutic treatment.

See also Amnesty International USA’s “The Issue: Medical Neglect of Women in U.S. Prisons

 Discrimination Based on Race:

  • Over a five-year period, the incarceration rate of African American women increased by 828% (NAACP LDF Equal Justice Spring 1998).
  • An African American woman is eight times more likely than a European American woman is to be imprisoned.
  • African American women make up nearly half of the nation’s female prison population, with most serving sentences for nonviolent drug or property related offenses.
  • Latina women experience nearly four times the rates of incarceration as European American women.
  • State and federal laws mandate minimum sentences for all drug offenders. This eliminates from judges the option of referring first time non-violent offenders to scarce, financially strapped drug treatment, counseling and education programs.
  • The racial disparity revealed by the crack v. powder cocaine sentences insures that more African American women will land in prison. Although 2/3 of crack users are white or Hispanic, defendants convicted of crack cocaine possession in 1994 were 84.5% African American. Crack is the only drug that carries a mandatory prison sentence for first time possession in the federal system.



Population Size/Type of Offense
(Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, October 2005 and May 2006)

  • Women are 7% of the prison population-up from 6.1% in 1995
  • By mid-year 2006, there were 106,174 women in state and federal prisons and another 94,571 were in our nation’s jails
  • As of 2002, 33% were sentenced for Violent Offenses
  • As of 2002, 28.7% were sentenced for Property Offenses
  • As of 2002, 31.5% were sentenced for Drug Offenses

(Source for all remaining statistics: Women’s Prison Association, December 2003)

  • 18-24 years 12%
  • 25-29 years 18%
  • 30-34 years 24%
  • 35-39 years 22%
  • 40-44 years 12%
  • 45 or older 2%


  • 60-67% of female prisoners are Black or Hispanic
  • 24% of the U.S. population is Black or Hispanic


  • 8th grade or less 13%
  • Some high school 27%
  • GED 22%
  • High school diploma 21%
  • Some college 14%
  • 64% of women entering prison do not have a high school diploma
  • Only 16% will receive a GED while incarcerated


  • Ever Abused 58%
  • Physically Abused 43%
  • Sexually Abused 39%

Family and Children

  • 2 million children have a parent in prison
  • Women in state prisons have an average of 2.38 children under 18
  • That leaves approximately 1 in 359 children with a mother in prison
  • Half of the women in prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from home
  • 2 out of 3 women in state prison have at least one family member who has been incarcerated
  • For 20% of them, that person was one of their parents
  • 4% have had both parents serve time
  • 12% (nearly 10,000) of the women in state prisons have a child who is also incarcerated

Health and Well-Being

  • Women in prison are 12 times more likely to be HIV positive
  • Women in prison are 16 times more likely than women in the general public to have a psychiatric order
  • They are 8 times as likely to have been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • They are twice as likely to have a major depressive episode
  • Separation from their children exacerbate their conditions
  • 74% of the women in state prison used drugs regularly before incarceration
  • Women are 33% more likely than men to be in prison for drug-related crimes


The Prison Industrial Complex

Two and a half million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, more than in any other country in the world. While the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, it has 23% of the world’s prisoners. There are more Black men under correctional supervision—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than there were slaves in 1850. And the total number of people under correctional supervision in the U.S.—over seven million—is greater than were in Stalin’s Gulag at its height.

These statistics and the increasing rate of incarceration do not reflect a growth in violent crime, which has actually declined during the last three decades, according to government data. Rather, they are the result of policy changes that promote greater rates of prosecution and longer prison terms. These policies, like “determinate sentencing,” “mandatory minimums” and “three strikes” laws, deny judges discretion and remove the human element from sentencing. They have filled U.S. prisons with millions of nonviolent offenders—particularly drug offenders from poor and Black communities where the policing and enforcement of drug laws is disproportionately high. The passage of more and stricter federal and state sentencing guidelines combined with heightened drug war enforcement has led to the quadrupling of the number of Americans incarcerated since 1980, with 70% of prisoners today consisting of minorities and people of color.

Who Benefits?

The exponential rise in the prison population parallels the growth in the private prison industry, which began in 1984 when Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was awarded its first contract to administer a prison in Hamilton County, TN. Since then private prison corporations have expanded to control over 415 state and federal facilities housing over 130,000 prisoners. Like the military and biotech industries, the prison industry has used lobbying and political campaign contributions to promote its own growth and profit. The top two prison corporations, CCA and GEO Group, contributed over $2.2 million to state political campaigns in 2010. These corporations have also been successful at placing their own lawyers and lobbyists in state offices where “tough on crime” legislation is being considered. For example, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s deputy Chief of Staff, Paul Senseman is a former lobbyist for CCA who helped draft the State’s notorious anti-immigration law that will—if it survives in court—greatly increase Arizona’s incarceration rates (and CCA’s profit margins).

The criminal justice system in the U.S. has become a false solution to the social and economic problems resulting from increasing poverty and inequality. Rather than funding education, affordable housing, and social services that reduce poverty and promote healthy communities, politicians have been bought off by a prison industry that feeds its own greed by increasing human misery. Given the current level of corruption and corporate collusion within both major political parties, a broad, grassroots movement of education, protest and civil disobedience will be needed to shift our national priorities from corporate profits to the common good.