The number of women held in local jails for misdemeanor crimes or in anticipation of a trial has increased by at least 14 times since 1970, from a mere 8,000 to close to 110,000 women in 2014, according to a study reported by The New York Times. And while the number of men in prison still far outweighs the number of incarcerated women, many are concerned about the lasting affects of this drastic growth.
According to The Guardian’s reports, most of the women who have been recently incarcerated are either Hispanic or of color, and nearly 80 percent of them are mothers.
They also tend to enter prison in more hostile situations than men; for instance, they generally are struggling financially, unemployed or using drugs at the time of their arrest.
Even still, about a third of incarcerated women suffer from a severe mental illness, like major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to The Guardian—a much higher percentage than is present among jailed men.
Life before jail seems rough enough for these women, but the actual imprisonment can be somewhat of a threat, as well, according to the study.
“For women, jail can be especially destabilizing because most jail environments were not designed with them in mind and do not take into account the particular adversities they have experienced,” the report said, according to The Guardian.
And while women reportedly make up just 13 percent of the imprisoned population, they fall victim to more than two-thirds of all staff-on-inmate sexual assaults.
“Many women leave jail with diminished prospects for physical and behavioral health recovery, with greater parental stress and strain, and even more financially precarious than they were before becoming caught up in the justice system,” according to the study.
With situations declining for the skyrocketing number of impoverished women in U.S. jails, it is clear that reform is necessary, not only to prevent their arrest, but to ensure their safety during and after their sentences.