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Criminal Justice Essay, Research Paper

Introduction To say female incarceration is rising is an understatement, says Emily Edwards, director ofCleveland s Women s Re-entry Resource Network. It s exploding. In 1997, more women werearrested, convicted, and sent to prison than ever before. Female offenders made up 6.4 percent ofthe state and federal prison populations, an increase from 3.8 in 1975. The nature of the crimeswomen are convicted of has also changed. In 1975, women were most likely to be incarcerated forcrimes such as larceny, embezzlement, forgery, and prostitution. Two decades later, thepercentage of women sentenced to prison for drug offenses had increased so that in 1995, womenwere primarily incarcerated for drug-related offenses and larceny. The gender-specific needs offemale offenders have not changed nor, for the most part, has the criminal justice system s relativeinattention to the needs of this population, even though the profile of adult female offenders haschanged since 1975.Adult female offenders have needs that differ from those of men, stemming in part from femaleoffenders disproportionate victimization from sexual or physical abuse and their responsibility forchildren. Female offenders are also more likely to be addicted to drugs and to have mentalillnesses. Many states and jail jurisdictions , particularly those with small female offenderpopulations, have few special provisions, either in management or programming, for meeting theneeds of women.Although some improvements have been made since 1975, largely because of litigation andincreased attention to women s issues overall, a great deal needs to be done to ensure that womenare treated fairly as they move through every phase of the criminal justice system. Female offenders require special attention in the following areas: Arrests, conviction, and incarceration.Gender Bias and disparity in sentencing.Gender-specific program needs.Arrests, Convictions, and IncarcerationData published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show an overall increase in the percentage offemale arrestees between 1975 and 1995. In 1995, women made up 14.7 percent of all felonydefendants convicted in U.S. District Courts, and 58.2 percent of these women were sentenced tofederal prisons. In 1994, 15 percent of the felony defendants who appeared in state courts in thenation s 75 largest counties were women. Fifteen percent of all persons convicted in state courts in1994 were women.The number of women in prisons and jails is growing at a faster rate than the number of men. Between 1985 and 1995, the number of incarcerated men doubled, increasing from 691,800 to1,437,600. However, during that same period the number of incarcerated women tripled, risingfrom 40,500 to 113,100.At midyear 1997, women accounted for 6.4 percent of all prisoners nationwide, up from 4.1percent in 1980 and 5.7 percent in 1990. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, womenentered the correctional system in record-breaking numbers in 1995. By the end of that year, anestimated 828,100 women were under correctional supervision (in prison, jail, on probation orparole), which amounts to 1 out of every 122 women in the U.S. adult population. By 1995,63,998 women were incarcerated in prison and 52,136 in local jails.Gender Bias and Disparity in SentencingGender-based sentencing disparities have been investigated and documented for some 10 years. Courts have struck down gender-based disparities in sentencing on equal protection grounds. However, judges continue to accept disparities justified by physiological differences. State-initiated studies are beginning to reveal the extent of bias in sentencing. For example, the Maryland Special Joint Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts asked judges and attorneys if thegender of the parties had affected the litigation processes or outcomes of particular cases. Fifty-two percent of the attorneys and 78 percent of the judges who responded reported that theywere aware of such cases. In response to questions regarding credibility problems in thecourtroom, female attorneys reported problems with the acceptance of women s testimony in childsupport, alimony, acquaintance rape, domestic violence, and sexual abuse cases, while maleattorneys reported similar problems with women s testimony in personal injury cases. Whenjudges were asked about the severity of leniency of sentencing based on gender, 41 percent reportedthat women were sentenced less severely than men. The committee noted that the most frequentlycited reasons for treating women differently were pregnancy and child care responsibilities. Itadded, however, that if child care were such a compelling reason for treating women leniently, onewould expect to see a greater degree of difference between the percentages of men and womensentenced within the sentencing guidelines. Research on disparities and gender bias in sentencingcontinues.Gender-Specific Program NeedsThe rapid increase in the number of female offenders has not been matched by an increase inspecialized programs for them. A rising population puts strain on prison budgets and staff evenfurther. Critics say even education programs don t make the grade when it comes to helpingwomen support themselves and their kids when they are on release. Programs that should be takeninto account for the special needs of women include the following:Substance abuse treatment.Health-care services.Academic and vocational education.Parenting skills.Community corrections and intermediate sanctions.Substance Abuse TreatmentThe increased presence of women in the criminal justice system–from an increased percentage offemale arrestees to an increase in the percentage of women imprisoned–has been accompanied by agrowing recognition that a substantial proportion of these women enter the system because of theirinvolvement with drugs. In 1975, women were more likely to be arrested for larceny, forgery,embezzlement, and prostitution. During the past decade, both drug offenses by women and theproportion of female offenders who are substance abusers have increased dramatically. Thispopulation continues to escalate despite an increase in deterrents such as tougher sentencing lawsand a crackdown on drug offenders.Women in state prisons were more likely than their male counterparts to be drug involved. Lifetime prevalence rates of alcohol abuse/dependence disorders also reveal that female arresteesare more likely than male arrestees to be diagnosed with substance abuse disorders–70.2 percent offemale arrestees compared with 32.4 percent of male arrestees. Roughly 54 percent of femaleprisoners in 1991 had used drugs in the month before their offense, compared with 50 percent ofthe male prisoners. Overall, about half the women reported that they had never participated in adrug treatment or drug education program. Similarly, among convicted jail inmates in 1996, drug use was more prevalent for women than formen. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 60 percent of convicted female

jail inmates used drugs in the month before their offense compared to 54 percent of convictedmales. Women in jail were also more likely to report prior regular drug use or being under theinfluence of drugs at the time of their offense. A large percentage of the adult female offenderpopulation continues to be drug-use violators.In 1975, about 30 percent of the women in federal facilities were drug offenders; in 1996 the figurewas 68 percent. Today, however, women who are convicted of drug offenses are often onlycouriers or front people. Despite not having a major in such drug transactions, women aresometimes sent to prison for longer periods of time than men involved in more extensive drugdistribution. In many cases, women commit their crimes to pay for their own drug addiction.The unique needs of women and increased drug abuse and drug-related arrests of female offendershave changed the emphasis of correctional programming for this population. Programs andservices needed for female offenders range from medical and mental health to life skills. There is aparticular need for drug education and drug treatment programs.Health-Care ServicesSpecific health-care services are required not only for pregnant inmates but for female offenders ingeneral, since most inmates have rarely received medical or dental examinations or prenatal care. Proper screening and infection control programs are vital aspects of correctional health care priorto incarceration. Behavior that often leads to incarceration–intravenous drug use, violence, andprostitution, for example–places inmates at high risk for HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. Theneed to include substance abuse education and treatment programs for women offenders in anoverall health-care program is reinforced when it is noted that female drug users are much morelikely to have committed robbery, burglary, larceny, and fraud then females who do not use drugs.The risk factor is tragic when drugs, needles, and sex are combined. In 1992, 73 women died instate prisons, 29 of whom had AIDS. Women in the prison and jail systems are significantly morelikely to be HIV-positive than men. There is also a connection between TB bacteria and HIV;individuals infected with both diseases present an extraordinary risk of spreading TB to otherinmates and facility staff. Every correctional facility should have a program in place to handle aTB outbreak.Academic and Vocational EducationAlthough correctional education was established with the first prison in 1798, education has notalways been seen as a necessary expense in the allocation of resources. At the state level, eachlegislative body decides whether a general educational development program is mandatory for itsinstitutions. On average, a higher percentage of females than males participate in educationprograms in the federal system. In fact, in 1996, 47 percent of female inmates, compared with 29percent of male inmates, participated in one or more educational programs.Vocational training programs are also important. A Bureau of Justice Statistics survey conductedin 1991 found that female inmates were significantly less likely than male inmates to be employedat the time of arrest (47 percent employed versus 68 percent employed, respectively). There is anurgent need for programs to develop job skills and good work habits among female inmatesbecause, upon release, these women most often provide support for their families.Parenting SkillsThe majority of female inmates are mothers, and as such have many special program needs. A1991 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey reported that about 78 percent of female inmates havechildren, most of whom have children under 18 years old. The proportion of incarcerated womenwho are mothers has remained constant since 1975. With each mother having an average of 2.5children, there are now close to a quarter of a million children whose mothers are incarcerated.One out of every four adult women in prison is pregnant at the time of incarceration or has givenbirth at some point during the previous year. In 1991, about 67 percent of women in state prisonsand 61 percent in federal prisons had children younger than age 18. About 90 percent ofincarcerated women with children under 18 years of age had some contact with their children. Anestimated 46 percent of women with minor children said they had telephone conversations withtheir children at least once a week; 45 percent had mail contact at least once a week; and 9 percenthad weekly visits with their children.Community Corrections and Intermediate SanctionsThere are some innovative alternatives and facilities that address the needs of female offenderstoday. Community corrections and intermediate sanctions, for example, combine supervision andservices to address the needs of female offenders in highly structured, safe environments in whichaccountability is stressed.The Federal Bureau of Prisons has created comprehensive sanction centers that are multifaceted,community-based, and expand halfway house services with a range of supervision/accountabilityprograms aimed at reaching a broad spectrum of male and female offenders. These programs aredesigned to provide the courts with a wide range of sentencing options, particularly for supervisingoffenders who revert to substance abuse. They are also designed to provide prerelease services tohigh-need inmates returning to the community. Aftercare and transitional services are especiallyimportant for incarcerated women as they return to the community. Community-based treatmentand programming are also needed for female offenders who are incarcerated.Community-based drug treatment involves intensive outpatient counseling and drug testing. Research and experience demonstrate that a critical component of an inmate s transition back intothe community is effective substance abuse treatment. When possible, the same treatmentproviders are used by the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Probation Service to ensure continuity ofcare upon completion of the sentence.Although progress has been made since 1975 in the development and implementation ofcommunity-based and intermediate sanctions, enhancement and expansion need to continue.ConclusionTo keep the female jail population from growing an outstanding 10.2 percent a year, manyprecautions can be taken. Among these are continuing gender-specific programming for adult andjuvenile offenders, and collecting more gender-specific data at every point in the criminal justiceprocess to establish an accurate profile of the female offender. Ensuring that specialized training isprovided to law enforcement personnel, including the development of emergency services,alternatives to arrest, and mental health crisis intervention, and training staff on women s issues,listening skills, and services that are available to women in the community, are also believed topromote the well-being of female offenders. There is little that can t be done. Everything fromoffering mental health and substance abuse treatment programs to encouraging the expansion ofintermediate sanctions and community programs that address the criminogenic behaviors of femaleoffenders. The biggest problem for many is having no support when they leave. There is thepossibility that some can be rehabilitated, but that is a choice that can be made by no one else otherthan themselves.


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