In the Know

Incarcerated Women in the United States:

  • There are approximately 231,000 incarcerated women in the US according to the Prison Policy Initiative, and the rate of incarceration of women is at a historic and global high, with 133 women in correctional facilities per every 100,000 female citizens.
  • Between 1980 and 2017, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 750%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 225,060 in 2017 (Sentencing Project).
  • About 80% of incarcerated women are mothers. (Vera)
  • Nearly two-thirds of women in jail are women of color—44% are black, 15% are Hispanic, and 5% are of other racial/ethnic backgrounds—compared to 36% of women who identified as white. (Vera)
  • 86% of incarcerated women have experienced sexual assault, 77% have experienced partner violence, and 60% have experienced caregiver violence (Vera).
  • 53% of incarcerated women have some type of medical problem (Vera).
  • 32% have a serious mental illness (Vera).
  • 82% have a drug or alcohol addiction or dependency (Vera).
  • Women in prisons are overwhelmingly poor, with most living well below the poverty line (Kajstura, 2017). 
  • Girls committed to juvenile correctional settings often receive harsher punishments than males for the same or lesser offenses (The Sentencing Project, 2018).
  • Girls in juvenile settings report astonishing rates of physical and sexual victimization prior to arrest (Abram, Teplin, Charles, Longworth, McClelland & Dulcan, 2004) and incidents involving sexual victimization and coercion during commitment  are at unacceptable rates (Beck, Cantor, Hartge & Smith, 2013).
  • From the American Psychological Association: The push to incarcerate more women ignores the social and psychological forces that often underlie female offending, including higher-than-average rates of  lifetime exposure to cumulative trauma, as well as  physical and sexual victimization; untreated mental illness; the use of substances to manage distress; and behavioral choices that arise in conjunction with gross economic disparities (Bloom and Covington, 2008). 

Incarcerated Women in New York / Rikers:

  • Due to local and statewide system reforms, NYC’s rate of female jail incarceration is much lower than the national average (in NY there are 23 incarcerated women per 100,000 female residents, compared to the national average of 133 women in correctional facilities per every 100,000 female citizens.) Yet jail still plays a large, and often destructive, role in the lives of many New York women. 
  • The Rose M. Singer Center has a capacity to hold up to 2,000 women. According to a 2017 report by the Vera Institute Nearly 6,000 women and girls are sent to Rikers Island every year. The vast majority are detained because they cannot afford their bail. 
  • Despite the fact that the majority of women are only on Rikers for less than a week, just a few days behind bars is likely to jeopardize any preexisting connections a woman has to housing, mental health care, and employment, reducing her chances of returning to a healthy life in the community.
  • The women who enter Rikers, statistically, have long trauma histories, most have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, many have mental health issues and multiple social service needs, which are difficult to adequately and thoroughly address in correctional settings.