New report, Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2024, shows the size and scope of women’s incarceration in America

Report shows the unique and troubling role that jails play in women’s incarceration.

March 5, 2024

190,600 women and girls are locked up in the United States on any given day. That’s the top-line number from the new report Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2024, released today by the Prison Policy Initiative. However, that number tells only part of the story of women’s incarceration in America. The report dives deep into the data to provide the most recent and comprehensive data on how many women are incarcerated in the U.S., in what kinds of facilities, and why; as well as detailed data on incarcerated women’s demographic makeup and health.

Women in the U.S. experience a dramatically different criminal legal system than men do, but data on their experiences is difficult to find and put into context. The new edition of Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie, which the Prison Policy Initiative has published since 2017, fills this gap with richly-annotated data visualizations about women behind bars.

“Like in so many other aspects of life in America, the unique experiences of women in the criminal legal system are obscured by those of men, treated as an afterthought,” said Aleks Kajstura, co-author of the report. “While incarceration impacts all people, tearing them away from their families, damaging their health, and putting an additional financial strain on those already living on a razor’s edge, the criminal legal system is particularly harsh for women in unique and damaging ways.”

“The data in this report should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers. Mass incarceration is failing everyone in the country — and when the country locks up women, the ripple effects are especially devastating,” said Wendy Sawyer, research director for the Prison Policy Initiative and co-author of the report. “Instead of continuing with this failed policy, they should work to address the issues that get women locked up in the first place — poverty, unmet physical and mental health needs, and the over-policing of Black women and girls.”

The report particularly examines the important role of jails in women’s incarceration. 93,000 women are held in jails, and the majority— 51,000 — have not been convicted of a crime. It explains that unaffordable cash bail and a criminal legal system that funnels them into jails after conviction are likely responsible for so many women being held in these facilities. The report goes on to show that jails can be especially deadly for women, with high rates of death from suicide and drug or alcohol intoxication. Additionally, the report highlights that, because they’re generally designed for shorter stays, jails are poorly positioned to provide healthcare for women, and that these facilities make it difficult for women to stay in touch with their families, by charging high rates for phone calls and restricting mail.

Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2024 also includes a section offering insights about the backgrounds and experiences of women in state prisons. Key takeaways include:

  • In the U.S., women are held in 446 state prisons, 27 federal prisons, 3,116 local jails, 1,323 juvenile correctional facilities, 80 Indian country jails, and 80 immigration detention facilities, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.
  • 58% of women in state prisons are parents to minor children, and of those, most are single mothers who were living with their children prior to imprisonment — making it likely that incarceration uprooted their children and led to termination of parental rights, permanently breaking up their families.
  • Nearly 7,000 young women and girls are caught up in the various systems of confinement. Almost half are held in facilities for the juvenile justice system, and almost as many are unaccompanied migrant children in Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities.
  • Girls of color and those who identify as LBTQ+ are disproportionately confined by the juvenile justice system. Black girls account for 32% of all girls in juvenile facilities despite making up just 14% of girls under 18 nationwide. Similarly, 40% of girls in the juvenile justice system are lesbian, bisexual, or questioning and gender non-conforming.
  • Probation and parole play a significant role in the women’s criminal legal system, with an additional 808,700 women under these forms of control. They are forced to live under a complex set of rules and restrictions that set them up to fail and threaten them with reincarceration.

The new report is available here:

One response:

  1. Kristin Warner says:

    The Washington Parish jail in Franklinton Louisiana is severely overcrowded to where women are sleeping on the floor and under beds yes you read that right also July 13th 2023 I was in that jail and was poisoned twice I had to go to the hospital two nights in a row the first night don’t know why the sick at night I was poisoned by three inmates who had it in their possession it’s not should not be allowed I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance but I’m about 15 different medications I suffering anxiety but vision and anxiety headaches depression and you name it the bad part is I have to return to the shield on April 1st of this year to back up a year what you mean like three or four months on the charge I caught in July of 23 I do not feel safe returns of this jail when I called you sheriff of Washington Parish he told me when I asked him if the jail was overcrowded still we don’t use yeah but we don’t use that term we just give him a Mac put them on the floor they got to get on their bed that’s what they got to do not keep in mind there are 41 women in that facility 41 okay they only have enough beds for 28 women yes you read that right one of the rooms that they put the women in is no bigger than the smallest bedroom in your house and I imagine one two three four double bunk beds in that room small bathroom and a big shower that used to be depended cell these people that run this facility do not care about women or the men sewage leaks under the wall from one cell to the next are from one block to the next for men and women it’s just sad it’s sad and something needs to be done about it can you help me

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