On International Women's Day, What About the Women?

On International Women’s Day let us pause for a moment and think of the women incarcerated in this country. Approximately 113,000 women are incarcerated in state and federal facilities. There are, in the United States, approximately 381 prisons for women and 3,376 jails housing both men and women. Black women represent more than 30% of the female inmate population with Hispanic women at more than 16%. Roughly two thirds of women in prison are serving time for non-violent crimes and of those who have committed ‘violent’ crimes, the majority is low-level. About 12.5% of the adults on parole and 25% of the adults on probation are women. More than 25% of all arrests in 2010 were women. And about two thirds of the women in these facilities are the mothers of minor children.  Sixty-percent have a history of drug abuse.  More than 40% have neither finished their high school education or their GED.

On this day as we celebrate the extraordinary advances of women across the globe, as we laud our heroines and our mentors, as we honor the achievement of women everywhere, I hope that we will call attention to the realities and the needs of women in our local, state and federal prisons and, in our ICE detention systems.

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Imagine that you are a young woman, pregnant and in jail. Between six and ten percent of female inmates are pregnant and many will be shackled as they give birth.  Or, perhaps you are an older woman and you have served your time for years, even decades.  Your needs become greater, more complicated as you grow older.  The vast majority of women over fifty will not re-offend.  But, many will grow old, without proper medicine or health care and will only leave prison in death.

Approximately one in ten women will report sexual abuse in prison. That number jumps to one in four in privately run facilities. And, quite frankly, who do you tell?

Let us reassess America’s penchant for prison. With five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate at five times that rate.  In sheer numbers and per capita, the United States of America incarcerates more people than any nation on earth.  And women, especially women of color, are seeing an extraordinary increase in incarceration rates.

It is time that we demand justice for women incarcerated or detained in public or private institutions. Abolish for-profit facilities.  Provide access to obstetrics and gynecological healthcare. Offer medical care and appropriate food and nutrition for pregnant inmates. Eliminate shackling during pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care. Offer appropriate care for those who have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused.  Create safeguards against staff abuse. Provide treatment for drug abuse and dependency.  Offer educational opportunities including GED preparation.  Expand visitation rights.  Find and use alternatives to incarceration.

Let us celebrate International Women’s Day with meaningful actions that remember those women who struggle to survive, every day, in America’s corrections and immigration systems.

Please be in touch with Grassroots Leadership at GrassrootsLeadership.org  or connect with me at 704.332.3090, ext.1 or at redwing@grassrootsleadership.org

Thank you,


Donna Red Wing

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