Two new reports from the Department of Justice give a detailed outlook of the U.S. incarceration picture. One report focuses on local jails and another on state and federal prisons.
Both reports show a sharp rise in the number of women behind bars. According to the Department of Justice, between 2021 and 2022 the number of women in jail rose by 9%.
The number of women imprisoned in the U.S. has been rising for years. The female incarcerated population is now over six times higher than it was in 1980.
Nazgol Ghandnoosh is the co-director of research at the Sentencing Project, and she points to the growing opioid crisis as a recent problem.
"It's really disturbing that we're moving in the wrong direction," said Ghandnoosh. "Part of it is that women are ... much more likely than men to be incarcerated for a nonviolent offense. And so that would be like a drug offense or a property crime. And so it's possible that as we experience the opioid crisis, and in particular in rural areas where there's much more willingness to incarcerate people for drugs than in urban areas."
The report also shows that while prison populations had been on the decline for several years, they have crept back up since the pandemic.
For the first time since 2013, the U.S. prison population increased nationally by nearly 2% from 2021 to 2022.
Wanda Bertram works for the Prison Policy Initiative.
"Lawmakers in many places have been celebrating these decreases in the prison population. And we've been saying, for years, this is not something, it's too early to celebrate," said Bertram. "What happened during COVID-19 to reduce the jail and prison populations was that a lot of the different procedural parts of the system just got stuck, right — court systems slowed down, prosecution slowed down, and police slowed down. The gears are beginning to turn again. And so now we're seeing more people go back into jails and prisons."
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