theantimedia | Holly Harris may wear cowboy boots to work, but the Kentucky mom and Executive Director for the US Justice Action Network (USJAN) is far from your average southerner.
This past Saturday, June 25th, Harris talked about her work to a group of journalists and bloggers who traveled to Washington D.C. from different corners of the country to hear from leaders of the criminal justice reform movement. Harris was the first speaker at FreedomWorks’ #JusticeForAll event, and as the leader of USJAN, she set the tone for what turned out to be a fascinating conference.
The veteran litigator opened her speech by outlining USJAN’s goals, explaining the organization believes “our [criminal] code just doesn’t make sense.” That’s why their “goal is to shrink criminal codes” and “get rid of these unfair, unnecessary duplicative and inconsistent laws.”
But it was something else she told the crowd a few minutes later that got attendees worked up.
“The fastest growing segment of the prison population in America,” Harris articulated, “is women … and nobody is talking about that.”
According to the Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation (FAMM), the female prison population in the United States has grown by over 800 percent in the last 30 years, while the male population grew by 416 percent during the same period. Despite this staggering growth, violent criminals are not being sent to prison in droves. Instead, nearly two-thirds of female prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.
About 56 percent of incarcerated women are in jail due to the drug war or over property crimes, FAMM reports. These types of offenses usually carry mandatory minimums, which are sentences that must be imposed no matter what. This strips judges of the ability to consider mitigating circumstances.
Due to mandatory minimums, FAMM contends, many women are given sentences that do not fit the crime — and the result is tragic.
Because 60 percent of women in prison are also mothers to children under the age of 18, the drug war has negatively impacted countless families; the number of American children whose mothers are in jail has more than double since 1991.
When data is broken down into racial classifications, we also learn there’s a serious racial element to incarceration in the United States.
According to FAMM, 380 out of every 100,000 black women in America are in jail, while 147 out of every 100,000 Hispanic women and 93 out of every 100,000 white women are incarcerated. While whites account for 79.8 percent of the U.S. population and 63.8 percent of women in America are white, only 45.5 percent of the female prison population is white. “By contrast,” the FAMM report explains, “black women represent 32.6 percent of female prisoners, but only 12.8% of the general population,” making black children “nearly 7.5 times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison.”