Federal Government Called On to Reclaim Leadership Role in Criminal Justice Reform for Women
Date:  09-11-2014

Most women in prisons are incarcerated for property or drug offenses
A recent article in the Huffington Post adds more to the report Reentry Central posted on 9-3-14 describing the harm done to women and their children who were sent away from the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) when it was reclassified as a prison for males. Federal officials promised that a new FCI would be completed in 18 months so that women from the Northeast region would once again be able to be incarcerated in a facility close to home and partake in programs designed to help them achieve successful reintegration. The federal government now says that it will take over 30 months to complete the renovation of the new FCI for women.

Meagan Quattlebaum, a co-author of the Linman report “ Dislocation and Relocation: Women in the Federal Prison System and Repurposing FCI Danbury for Men” claims that the federal government needs to once again become the leader in criminal justice reform. Although the feds have initiated some strong reform measures recently, Quattlebaum and others believe much more can be done with regard to the treatment of women in federal prisons. Quattlebaum encourages the sharing of her Huffington Post article and the Liman report.

In the criminal justice reform arena, states have taken the lead. From rolling back harsh mandatory minimum sentences (at least 29 states) have done so since 2000) to decreasing their prisons' populations (New York's declined 26 percent between 1999 and 2012, and violent crime rates fell) states are taking steps to be smart on crime.

Once a leader, the federal government now lags behind the states in criminal justice innovation. Congress has passed some laudable initiatives in recent years, including the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses, and the Second Chance Act, which provided funding for reentry services. But the federal prison population nonetheless continues its seemingly inexorable rise, from 25,000 inmates in 1980 to about 219,000 today.

One area in which the feds have fallen particularly far behind is in the treatment of female prisoners. In recent decades, state correctional officials and social scientists have pioneered the concept of "gender responsive" prison programming. These approaches are based on a growing body of knowledge about women in detention. As social scientists have now documented in detail, women are less likely than men to have committed violent crimes and are more likely to have committed property or drug offenses. According to a report from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), "[w]omen's most common pathways to crime involve survival efforts that result from abuse, poverty, and substance abuse." Incarcerated women have disproportionately high rates of prior physical and sexual abuse; substance abuse; medical problems; and mental health disorders.

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