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War on Drugs and the Incarceration of Mothers

NCJ Number
Journal of Drug Issues Volume: 30 Issue: 4 Dated: Fall 2000 Pages: 919-928
Stephanie Bush-Baskette
Kathy G. Padgett
Date Published
10 pages
This study presents an overview of the historical and contemporary involvement of women with drugs and drug abuse and the effects of the current "War on Drugs" on the incarceration of women and their children. In addition, attention is called to the need to understand the social costs involved in imprisoning mothers for drug offenses.
At the end of 1999, the number of women held in State and Federal prisons had risen to 90,668, an incarceration rate of almost 60 per 100,000. More than 10 percent of the female prison population had been sentenced to Federal institutions, and most women incarcerated in the Federal system were there for drug offenses. The majority of these women had little or no prior criminal record and were directly involved in dealing or possessing only a relatively small amount of drugs. More than 80 percent were sentenced under mandatory minimum sentencing laws provided by the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988. Approximately 70 percent of these women were mothers of one or more children under the age of 18. Because crime and incarceration are primarily a male phenomena, research to date has focused mainly on the effects that incarceration of males has on their families and communities. Given the greater rate of increase in the incarceration of women than men in recent years, driven almost exclusively by the "War on Drugs," this focus should be widened to include the effects of incarcerating females, with special attention to the displacement of their dependent children. The costs of incarcerating a woman who has children extend beyond the disruption of her life and the expenditure of public funds required to imprison her. These costs include the effect her incarceration has on her children and on those who become the guardians, as well as the financial costs related to the supervision of her children while she is incarcerated. It seems clear that the imprisonment of mothers has immediate, as well as long-term effects that are very destructive. These harms must be considered and investigated whenever social policies are being developed that may lead to the incarceration of large numbers of women. References