Women now fastest-growing population behind bars, report finds

Women now fastest-growing population behind bars, report finds
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Women are now the fastest-growing population behind bars, according to a report out Wednesday.

The report, titled "Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform," from the Vera Institute of Justice and the Safety and Justice Challenge, found that the number of women incarcerated in the U.S. has grown fourteenfold, from under 8,000 to nearly 110,000 since 1970. 

The groups say little research has been done to explain the cause of the increase, but the report suggests mental illness, trauma and poverty might be contributing factors. 

Among women in local jails, the report found, 32 percent have a serious mental illness, a rate more than double that of jailed men and six times that of women in the general public. Eighty-six percent of women in jail have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, the report found.

Because women are more economically disadvantaged in general, the report said, women who find themselves behind bars are less likely to be able to afford the bail, fines and fees to get out and remain free.

The report also found that the majority of imprisoned women are nonwhite, and nearly 8 in 10 are mothers. But unlike men, the majority are single parents.

“Just as the misuse of local jails has been missing from the national conversation on criminal justice reform until recently, the exponential growth of women in jail has been ignored for too long,” Nicholas Turner, president of the Vera Institute of Justice, said in a statement.

“This report is an important first step to recognizing this gap — which profoundly and directly affects families as well as the women behind bars — and reversing course on this alarming trend.”