When it's noted that the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world, we tend to picture male inmates. But it's also true of females, and its presenting a whole different set of social problems, according to experts who will participate in a UC Irvine School of Law summit today.
"Women and Mass Incarceration: The U.S. Crisis of Women and Girls Behind Bars," which runs from noon to 4 p.m. today at the UCI School of Law (EDU 1131), will highlight the summit presenter Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy's most recent study on girls behind bars.
The study shows the U.S. incarcerates more women than any other nation in the world–more than Russia, China and India combined. It finds the incarceration rate for women has grown by more than 800 percent from 1977 to 2007–nearly twice the rate of men. It indicates two-thirds of these women are nonviolent offenders, and many are mothers whose children are placed in foster care.
This all comes from state and federal data that also point to dramatic racial disparities across the nation, according to UCI Law Professor Michele Goodwin.
"Because we address incarceration as a male issue, we ignore the growing problem of women behind bars and the conditions associated with birthing in prison, children torn from both parents, and generally failed policies related to our nation's drug war," Goodwin says.
The summit aims to tackle urgent concerns, "given that both Republicans and Democrats now recognize that mass incarceration cannot be sustained at current levels," Goodwin adds.
Experts at the summit will raise questions about mass incarceration and the rationale behind the drug war; the racial disparities of women behind bars; and health, rape, solitary confinement and death in U.S. jails and prisons. Panelists will point out that when nonviolent women leave prisons, many cannot vote, obtain housing or jobs, or even qualify to volunteer–because they have a criminal record.
Besides Goodwin, these experts include: UCI Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Hon. Pamela Alexander, Gina's Team Executive Director Sue Ellen Allen, Detective Jack Cole, Columbia University Professor Carl Hart, Dr. George Woods Jr. and Victoria Law.