The Bureau of Justice Statistics earlier this week released a report showing that the federal rate of female prisoners sentenced to more than a year rose 3 percent to over 111,000 from 2012 to 2013, statistically much higher than the 0.2 percent rate for men. In all, over 1.5 million people were in state and federal prisons on Dec. 31, 2013, the report says, up 0.3 percent year over year, led by state increases. However, California, for one, managed to significantly reduce its prison population, showing a 0.2 percent decline, in part by working on alternatives to incarceration, of which a new mental health program was announced recently.
It’s worth noting that these figures do not include people being held in county jails, and also it’s notable that the Federal Bureau of Prisons said it saw the first decrease in inmates under its jurisdiction since 1980. Further, private prisons held 8 percent of the total U.S. prison population at yearend.
What’s, of course, shocking is the huge increase in the female prison population, whose numbers rose in 36 states for the year. Looking deeper into the data, white females make up nearly 50 percent of the female prison population. About 25 percent of state female prisoners were held for drug offenses (15 percent for men); of all prisoners, male and female, more than half were held due to drug crimes, the report says.
Also, of note from the report is that three New England states—Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont—had among the highest percentage increases in female inmates in 2013. Vermont had a fairly large 21.3 percent increase in women prisoners, with sentenced female prisoners jumping a whopping 31.5 percent.
Both Vermont and Massachusetts are among many states battling opiate addiction. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin said in January during his state of the state address that in 2013 Vermont had “twice as many federal indictments against heroin dealers than in the prior two years.”
Here’s PBS coverage of Governor Shumlin’s address:
Perhaps more mental health ATI programs like the one California is implementing will help make a dent in the growing prison population and give people the rehabilitation they need.