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Hard Hit: The Growth in the Imprisonment of Women, 1977-2004

NCJ Number
Judith Greene; Kevin Pranis; Natasha A. Frost Ph.D.
Date Published
144 pages
This report presents an analysis of the growth in the imprisonment of women in the United States between 1977 and 2004.
Main findings indicate that the growth in the imprisonment of women in the United States has been dramatic. In 1977, there were approximately 11,212 women incarcerated across the country. By 2004, that number had increased 757 percent to 96,125 incarcerated women. Regionally, there were vast differences in the rate of female imprisonment. A State-by-State analysis is offered that indicates that while Oklahoma imprisoned 129 of every 100,000 female residents in 2004, Massachusetts and Rhode Island only imprisoned 11 women per 100,000 female residents. Criminal justice policy is a key point in understanding regional differences since it is improbable that women in Oklahoma are over 10 times more criminal than women in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In general, Mountain and Southern States exhibited the most punitiveness in the imprisonment of women. The 5-year period between 1999 and 2004 saw many States rethink their incarceration policies. Nine States decreased their use of imprisonment for women during this period, most notably New York and New Jersey. Other States, however, continued to increase their numbers of female prisoners, including Florida and Alabama. The United States continues to incarcerate women of color at a disproportionate rate, causing economic and social hardships to families already experiencing disadvantage. The analysis suggests that female prison populations are particularly sensitive to the factors that influence overall levels of imprisonment. At the same time, research has revealed that women’s pathways to prison differ from those of men. Future research should be sensitive to these differences in order to develop effective strategies to improve criminal justice outcomes for women. Data sources included imprisonment data for the study period, population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities for 2000. Figures, tables, notes