Women InJustice: Gender and the Pathway to Jail in New York City
Date:  03-30-2017

"One size fits all" approach to incarceration and reform doesn’t serve women
From the John Jay College of Criminal Justice report Women InJustice: Gender and the Pathway to Jail in New York City:

Executive Summary

The number of women in the American justice system has grown exponentially in recent decades, by more than 700% from 1980 to 2014. This dramatic increase was driven by criminal justice policies rooted in the so-called war on drugs and perceptions of increased violent crime. Although crime rates began to fall in the 1990s, harsh sentencing policies remained and, in some cases, grew harsher. Despite this increase, women still comprise only a fraction of those in the justice system and they are less likely to be charged with the most serious, violent crimes. The administration of justice has paid insufficient attention to gender and women have not been served well under a “one size fits all” approach. Now, as the deep costs of this mass incarceration have become apparent, conversations about collateral consequences, racial injustice, and lasting social inequality are beginning. As criminal justice system reform progresses, attention to gender is essential.

A robust body of scholarship has outlined the adversity faced by women that leads to their involvement in the justice system.4 These pathways are driven by their experiences of violence, trauma, and poverty.5 Women of color, particularly those from low-income communities, are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated.6 Research has also increased our understanding of the types of gender-responsive programs that help women, demonstrating that women’s rehabilitative and psychosocial needs are different from men’s.7 Overall, women are a lower risk population within the criminal justice system. New York City data shows that women are charged with less serious crimes, are less likely to be charged with violent crimes, and are less likely to return to jail within one year.8 This is consistent with national research on women in the criminal justice system.9

The goal of this report is to foster understanding of the role of gender in the New York City justice system. This report also aims to bridge information gaps—to help those steeped in criminal justice reform to better understand the unique needs of women, and to help those steeped in women’s services to better understand the context of the criminal justice system.

In New York City, there has been increased attention to the tragic harms experienced by people in the criminal justice system. Public attention to the violence at Rikers Island, New York City’s central jail—and the only city facility in which women are held—is driving conversations about criminal justice reform.10

New York City has embarked on a series of reforms to divert people from jails and prisons and provide community supervision and community rehabilitation. We must ensure that reforms meet the specific needs of the people that enter these programs, and those needs are often gender-specific. This would be a welcome change, because women have not benefited from criminal justice reform to the same extent as men. Nationally, the number of men arrested and imprisoned has decreased while the number of women arrested and imprisoned has remained steady or continued to rise.11 In New York City, while arrest numbers have declined significantly for men in the past five years, women have not experienced the same rate of decline.12

Reducing the number of women held at Rikers will require a multifaceted strategy, but the end result will be a system that is both fairer and more effective, while also reducing recidivism and improving the prospects of justice-involved women. Reforms must be gender-responsive, faithful to the principles of proportionality and parsimony, and engage social services to better serve individuals with criminal justice system histories.

In addition to these global considerations, reform would also target the major decision-making points that serve as the pipeline to jail. Most women in jail in New York City are being held pretrial, thus reform must focus on improving the criminal justice process to reduce the number of people arrest and detain fewer people, as well as providing an array of gender-responsive interventions, and connecting women to social services throughout their court involvement. Continue reading >>>