Like the old peace song of the '60s said, "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?" Let's look at the facts regarding female inmates; we can describe the no-win policy the U.S. corrections system is following by merely looking at the figures.
The growth in incarceration rates has been greater for women and minorities since 1980. From 1980 to 1996, the incarceration rate among females rose nearly fivefold, from 11 female inmates per 100,000 to 51 per 100,000. "Despite this faster rate of growth, female inmates account for a small percentage of all inmates in the United States, only 6.1 percent at year-end in 1996, and 6.8 percent of the total in 2000, up from 3.9 percent in 1980." (1) In addition, most of the offenses that incarcerated women have committed are nonviolent. Researchers Alfred Blumstein and Allen J. Beck go on to say that the major category that has contributed to the increase in incarceration for women is drug offenses, which has increased their incarceration at a compounded annual rate of approximately 20 percent from 1980 to 1996. Public order offenses, namely weapons and immigration violations, also rose sharply during the same period, representing the second highest category of growth rate of offenses for women and minorities.
It is a common understanding among criminologists and corrections professionals that offenders who commit property crimes do not usually need to be incarcerated, as they are not a violent threat to society. In fact, they are the candidates most likely to respond to rehabilitation efforts at residences of lesser security and considerably less cost per individual to society. Furthermore, sentenced offenders can learn far more about personal responsibility and accountability at lower-security rehabilitation programs than they will ever be exposed to in prison. The cost of housing men or women in prison runs about $28,000 per inmate per year, (2) and it is virtually impossible to put them through a truly effective drug and alcohol treatment program while fully incarcerated. The atmosphere of lockup and danger to inmates when sharing intimate problems mitigates against a rehabilitative atmosphere. Yet, 70 percent to 80 percent of inmates have a need for drug and alcohol treatment and education. Compare this with a Diversion to Intermediate Sanctions Program, which costs $18,000 per inmate per year (providing a 36 percent cost savings over incarceration) and specializes in drug and alcohol treatment. The average length of such a program is 18 months, as compared with an average of five years and two months for all felony offenses imposed by state courts; four years and three months for drug offenses; and three years for property offenses. (3)...