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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - "More women behind bars; drug use, mandatory sentencing blamed for the increase"

Kristine Guerra has this lengthy story today in the Indianapolis Star. Some quotes:

Indiana’s prisons now house more than twice the number of inmates than they did in the early 1990s. And though women still make up less than 10 percent of the overall prison population, they account for a disproportionate share of the continuing increase. While the male population is more than twice its level in 1990, the female population has nearly quadrupled.

The climb is also apparent in county jails.

Sheriff Doug Cox remembers the days when the Johnson County Jail hosted no more than a dozen women at a time. The number has quintupled to about 60 on any given day.

“We’re seeing a lot of females with drug issues, daily drug issues where they have to go out and commit crimes to pay for that daily drug habit,” said Cox, a veteran of three decades in law enforcement. “For years, the only people you’ve ever heard doing a residential burglary and breaking in someone’s home are men. We never saw a female involved, and now we do see it.” * * *

Experts say the War on Drugs and its get-tough-on-crime message has had a disproportionate effect on women, most of whom are typically charged with nonviolent, low-level offenses, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on sentencing policy reforms.

“In the mid-1980s, when the War on Drugs took off in a big way, women were more likely to be involved in drug offenses," Mauer said. “As the number of drug prosecutions increased, that started to bring in women in much greater numbers."

The increase was especially sharp in Indiana in the two decades following the launch of the War on Drugs. Between 1999 and 2004, Indiana ranked among the nation’s top 10 states for increases in the female inmate population, according to a study commissioned by the Institute on Women and Criminal Justice.

When it comes to drug charges, Mauer said, women are usually subject to mandatory sentences that don’t necessarily take into consideration their roles in the crimes. In Indiana, a majority of female prisoners are convicted of Class C and D felonies, according to Department of Correction records. Theft is the most prevalent offense; the most common drug charges involve possession rather than distribution.

“Women generally are not the kingpin of the drug trade,” Mauer said. “Women are often involved with a boyfriend or an accomplice, or maybe related to a drug-related prostitution, or a pimp she works for.”

This is more commonly known among researchers as the “girlfriend problem,” referring to women entangled in drug rings with their partners. * * *

And because women generally don’t have major roles in the drug trades, they often don’t have much information to offer law enforcement officers that would result in a plea bargain or a more lenient sentence, said Julie Ajinkya, a policy analyst for the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan educational institute based in Washington, D.C.

That leads to a focus on punishing rather than on healing, said Ajinkya, who focuses her research on gender, race, ethnicity and demographic change.

Judge Jose Salinas, who presides in drug cases in Marion Superior Court, agrees. He said courts should have more discretion to send hardcore criminals to prison and to give addicts charged with low-level crimes opportunities for treatment.

“I do believe that our sentencing structure needs to be modified to correctly reflect the drug issue,” Salinas said. “I think the lack of flexibility has contributed to more females being charged with maybe higher-level offenses that could’ve been a misdemeanor.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 14, 2013 03:45 PM
Posted to Indiana Government