Day 31

Much of the focus of studies and statistics concerns the outcomes of a system of mass incarceration either generally or on men of color.  However, in recent years the number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate for men, mostly locked up for non-violent offenses.  The collateral consequences run deep in our society for these women, as I have painted some of the picture in previous posts.  But not only does this mass incarceration affect the individuals caught in the system, but it devastates families and communities in its wide-spreading wake.

As I picked up my 3 year old son from his crib this morning, I could not help but think of the parents and children whose lives are torn apart by our systems of incarceration.  Millions of families do not have the luxury I have to get down in the floor to play ball or wrestle with their kids, to play tickle monster and chase, to sit around the breakfast table together.  It breaks my heart that our collective penchant for punishment — irrational in so many ways and unforgiving to its core — devastates families, tearing them apart, leaving them shattered and on their own to pick up the pieces.

We have such a double standard in our society.  So many of us say we want to focus on the family and care deeply about family values, yet we ignore the devastation ravaging families in poor communities, mostly of color.  Criminal justice policies that don’t work to make us any safer.  Legalized discrimination that perpetuates the punishment post-conviction. Barriers to good jobs, housing, education, social support, worth, dignity, participation in our democracy.  Stigmas of shame that are passed out like candy.  Children growing up without parents.  Families torn apart.  Communities battered and broken.  Pervasive death.  Just not in our backyard.  So we ignore it.

Oh, but we care.  Families are important. In fact, for some the most important, institution in our society.  We have to call this what it is.  Baloney.  Self-serving, narrow-minded, cowardly, prejudiced.  Hypocrisy.  And people of faith are more often than not the absolute worst.  Not all of us think the same way, however.  So please don’t lump us all together.  None of us are perfect, of course.  We are all guilty.  Of complicity.  Of silence. Of misplaced priorities.  Of ignorance.  Of hypocrisy.  Please forgive us.  Lord, give us the strength and courage to repent.  O God of compassion, have mercy on us.  And fill us with mercy for others.


Since 1985, the number of women in prison is increasing at nearly double the rate for men, 404% to 209%.

More than one million women are currently under supervision of the U.S. criminal justice system.  Over 200,000 locked up in prison or jails.

One-third of incarcerated women are behind bars because of drug offenses.

Often these women have significant histories of physical and sexual abuse, high rates of HIV infection, and substance abuse.

Nearly three-quarters (73.1%) of women in state prison in 2005 had a mental health problem, compared to 55% of men in prison. *see Women in the Criminal Justice System

“From 2000 to 2009 there was a dramatic shift in the racial composition of the women’s prison population.  In 2000, African American women were incarcerated at 6 times the rate of white women. By 2009, that disparity had dropped by half, to less than three times the white rate.

The factors contributing to these changes include:  sharply reduced incarceration of African American women for drug offenses in some states; declining rates of arrest of black women for violent, property, and drug offenses; and, cumulative social disadvantages that are increasingly affecting less educated white women.”  *see The Sentencing Project


The parents of 1 in every 50 children in the United States are in prison, over half of them serving time for non-violent offenses.

More than 40% of parents in prison lived with their children before being locked up.  Half of them were the main source of financial support for their children.

“Sending parents to prison contributes to single-parent households, damages family ties, and exacerbates chronic childhood poverty.” * see Disentangling the Risks and The Sentencing Project

“The likelihood that children will have parents who are incarcerated is disproportionately linked to race. In 1999, one of every 14 black children had a parent in prison, compared with one in every 125 white children. Black children are almost 9 times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison and Hispanic children are 3 times more likely.

60 percent of incarcerated women were not employed full-time when they were arrested, and 37 percent had incomes under $600 in the month leading up to their arrest, compared with 40 percentand28percentofmen,respectively.”  *see Women in the Criminal Justice System

As incarceration rates exploded between 1970 and 2007, the proportion of US-born black women aged 30-44 who were married plunged from 62% to 33%. *see Sex and the Single Black Woman, a fascinating read about how the mass incarceration of black men affects black women

Oh God who is Love, make us Your people who gladly bear each other’s burdens.  For where one suffers, we all suffer.  Open our eyes that we may see…




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