Think of the typical person locked up in America's jails and you'll probably conjure an image of a man. But while men make up the vast majority of the country's incarcerated population, women are its fastest-growing demographic.
America has experienced a five-fold increase in its jail and prison populations since 1970. But the number of women in jails increased 14 times over that time period, from 8,000 to nearly 110,000. This is one of the insights made by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Safety and Justice Challenge in their new report "Overlooked: Women and Jails in the Era of Reform."
The report focuses on local jails, which are typically designed to hold inmates awaiting trial or serving a short sentence and those who are deemed to be a danger to society or a flight risk.
Back in 1970, three quarters of U.S. counties didn't hold even a single woman in jail. Now only a few don't.
In a lot of ways, incarcerated women are a lot like incarcerated men. They tend to be poorer than their counterparts on the outside and are more likely to be black or Hispanic and unemployed. A majority are nonviolent offenders charged with property or drug crimes. Fifty-three percent have medical problems, 32 percent serious mental illness and 82 percent drug or alcohol abuse problems, the report finds.
But the profile of jailed women looks quite different from that of men in at least one respect. "Nearly 80 percent of women in jails are mothers, but unlike incarcerated men, they are, by and large, single parents, solely responsible for their young children."
And once incarcerated, the report states, "women must grapple with systems, practices and policies that are designed for the majority of the incarcerated population: Men."
Read the report here.
Daniel Allott is deputy commentary editor for the Washington Examiner