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Kansas Leads Country in Female Incarceration Rates

A report put out by the Prison Policy Initiative and the American Civil Liberties Campaign for Smart Justice in October 2019 collected what sparse data existed in gender-specific statistics and evaluated and presented them in a format that reflected female prison population trends and their effect on society.

Statistics were gathered from a number of government agencies and broke down the number of females held in facilities across the United States by offense. The report stated that it “answers the questions of why and where women are locked up.”

The report showed women’s incarceration rates growing twice as fast as men’s within the last 20 years. Most states do not have the capacity to house all of these women in their prisons, so more and more are being held in county jails than in prisons. There were 231,000 women incarcerated in America: 53% White, 29% Black, 14% Hispanic, 2.5% American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.9% Asian, and 0.4% Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Of those, 114,000 are in jails, either serving a sentence, awaiting trial or awaiting transfer to prison.

The report stated that men’s arrests have decreased 30% since the 1980s, yet women’s arrests have remained the same. For juvenile females, status offenses (running away, truancy, incorrigibility, etc.) account for 10% of arrests, while only 3% of male juveniles are incarcerated for such offenses. A major concern here is that these particular offenses are possible responses to abuse and should be treated more conscientiously.

Kansas female prison population increases far exceed nationwide statistics — 60% in the past 20 years while men’s only rose 14%. This has resulted in several adverse effects on women in prison. Overcrowding has become a major issue, with women sleeping in dayrooms reserved for recreation or spending weeks in intake until a bed comes open on the compound. Low-security females with shorter sentences are getting all of the treatment and programs (which are more geared for male prisoners to begin with), leaving medium- or high-security females largely untreated. Lastly, females are more apt to have caregiver duties that conflict with probation or parole regulations resulting in more technical violations.

Kansas City Sentencing Commission senior research analyst George Ebo Browne attributed Kansas’ probation and parole violation sanction changes in 2013 for much of the female population growth. No longer can judges use their discretion when sentencing defendants who have violated parole. The judge must consult a “graduated sanctions” chart, and exceptions cannot be made for extenuating circumstances like single household caregiver. “It changed the practice for everyone,” he said. “But how it was applied on the bench greatly impacted women.”

The report cited policing practices for contributing to female population increases. Racial and sexual disparities in traffic stops, arrests and parole/probation violations were significant and with 40% of juvenile females claiming lesbian, bisexual, or questioning and gender non-conforming, they are more susceptible to receiving longer sentences.

The Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice hope the report serves as incentive to promote reforms that do not leave women behind and that change polices that have led to discriminatory incarceration.