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Things you should know about women and the criminal justice system

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Last week, President Obama commuted the prison sentences of 61 people serving time under "outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws" for drug offenses.

The president has commuted 248 sentences so far, including 92 life sentences.

In the past, State of Opportunity has explored the school-to-prison pipeline, easing ex-cons back into society, and life for families after prison.

After hearing the president's announcement, I started exploring what else is going in the criminal justice system.

Did you know women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population, increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985? There are currently more than one million women in the U.S. behind bars or under the control of the criminal justice system.

Here are a few more facts:

1. African-American women are more likely than women of other races to go to prison during their lifetime.

According to the Center for American Progress (CAP):

One in every 18 African-American women will go to prison during their lifetime if incarceration rates continue at the same rate. This is far greater than the rates for white women and Latinas — 1 in 111 women and 1 in 45 women, respectively.

2. The war on drugs has caused significant rise in the number of women incarcerated and their access to adequate drug treatment.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance:

Nearly a quarter of women in state prison were incarcerated for drug offenses at the end of 2013, compared to 15 percent of men. As of September 30, 2014, roughly 59 percent of women in federal prison were incarcerated for drug offenses, compared to approximately 50 percent of men.

3. Incarcerated women are likely to bevictims of abuse, have a history of substance abuse and/or suffer from mental health issues.

According to CAP:

A 2007 study found that nearly all incarcerated women have experienced a “traumatic event” — with 71 percent reporting that they were “exposed to domestic violence.” According to a 2008 study, 73 percent of women in state prisons and 47 percent of women in federal prisons used drugs prior to going to prison. Additionally, approximately 73 percent of women in state prisons and 75 percent of women in local jails have signs of mental health disorders, compared with only 12 percent of women in the general U.S. population.

4. Women of color are significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):

Black women represent 30% of all incarcerated women in the U.S, although they represent 13% of the female population generally. Hispanic women represent 16% of incarcerated women, although they make up only 11% of all women in the U.S.

5. Among female state prisoners, two-thirds are mothers of a minor child.

According to the ACLU:

Over 1.5 million children have a parent in prison. More than 8.3 million children have a parent under correctional supervision and more than one in five of these children is under five years old.

You can read more about women and the criminal justice system here.

You can hear President Obama's remarks on commuting prison sentences below:

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