The US criminal justice system, with its consistent show of mass incarceration and unjust decision-making, has shown time and time again that justice, in the face of a long-standing institution of prejudice, is a doubtful promise. A justice system that pledges to withhold the very foundations of honor that built this country yet tolerates injustice within its social fabric is not something anyone should put their faith into. Within this system, it is clear that minorities are put at a disadvantage, but the hidden, devastating impact falls on women.
People of color are at a higher risk to be caught in the criminal justice system. The rate at which minority women are arrested is increasing and with it, so is the length of sentences that people of color receive for crimes that their white-counterparts got away with for less time. According to a study conducted by the Sentencing Project entitled Women in the Criminal Justice System in 2007, the total number of incarcerated women has increased almost twice as much as men since 1985. This incarceration rate signifies that there should be an increasing number of gender-specific measures that apply to what women need while doing time. Yet, the justice system has almost turned a blind a to the specific needs of women by refusing to do something as simple as paying for counselling to help incarcerated women deal with past trauma, which they are disproportionately exposed to.
Say that these women have children, but as they are incarcerated, mothers are 5 times more likely than men to have their children removed from them or sent to foster care. Maintaining that bond with their child is difficult for incarcerated women, with only ⅓ reporting to have received a call from their child and over ½ that have never had a visit from their kids.
Even if one overlooks the likely chance that a mother in prison will have her sentence extended, it is important to note that the prejudice does not end for incarcerated women when the are released. Similar to the barriers that most ex-convicts face, attempting to re-enter society with prevalent social inequality is as difficult as it sounds, but for women, it’s next to impossible. Faced with having to provide for not only themselves but also their children, women are held back as they may not have access to government assistance programs. Additionally, some state laws ban convicted women from entering certain industries which further propels them back as they try to regain their place in society.
Women behind bars face issues that the current broken criminal justice system perpetuates: a lack of gender-specific treatment, disregard for children of incarcerated mothers, and discrimination that these women carry with them even after release. It is vital for us to see that women are disportionately victimized by this so-called “justice” system in order to see any steps in the right direction.