As the 2020 candidates have begun to roll out criminal justice reform proposals, we cannot forget the 231,000 women currently incarcerated in the United States.
Tragically, women are often overlooked in plans meant to reduce the number of Americans held in jail cells or sent to prison each year.
Women are now incarcerated at a faster rate than any other group in the country; more than 8x as many women are currently in prison as in 1980—a growth rate of more than 750-percent in just four decades. Currently, 1.3 million women are involved in the criminal justice system in some way. This includes the more than 1 million women on probation or parole. It also includes the 89,000 women who are currently being held in local jails (60-percent of whom have not yet been convicted and have not yet had a trial).
Most of these women are forced to remain in jail before their trial simply because they cannot afford cash bail—a median cost of $11,700 in the United States. Prior to arrest, incarcerated women earn a median annual income of just $11,071—less than both that median bail cost and the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty threshold.
Average annual income is lower for incarcerated women of color as compared to white women, further contributing to racial inequality in the U.S. carceral system. The cash bail system is unjust—it sets women up for failure and punishes those living below the poverty line.
Being in prison can be an incredibly isolating experience. Women can spend up to 17 hours a day isolated in their cells, with no reading material except The Bible.
We’re on a mission to change that. That’s why we started the Ms. Magazine Prison and Domestic Violence Shelter Program.
Funded by charitable contributions and members of the Ms. Community who buy an extra subscription for a friend they don’t know, we currently send Ms. to 4,846 federal, state and county prisoners and to hundreds of domestic violence shelters (which can often be almost as isolating as prisons).
We hope to keep growing this meaningful program—but we need your help. Together, let’s show women in prisons and domestic violence shelters that they have not been forgotten.