ACLU: The System, Not Female Prisoners, Guilty

You find what you look for. When you look for statistical evidence of discrimination and injustice, you will find it.

In a corrections system in which 85% of prisoners are male, for example, the ACLU of Virginia finds evidence of “widespread and discriminatory suffering” imposed upon women. You see, while women constitute only 15% of Virginia prison inmates, their numbers are increasing at a faster rate than those of men — 32% over the past four years, compared to only 4% for men.

Over a 26-year period, the numbers are even more striking. The commonwealth saw a 930% increase in its female inmate population between 1980 to 2016: from 303 women in prison to 3,123.

“It was fairly shocking,” Bill Farrar, strategic communications director for the ACLU of Virginia told the Virginian-Pilot. “People should care about any group that is marginalized or adversely affected by their government in a disparate way.”

What Farrar finds shocking is not that women commit more crimes than they did three decades, which might be construed as a sign of corrosive social breakdown, but that society is incarcerating women who commit the crimes. In a study that prompted the Virginian-Pilot reporting, “Women in the Criminal Justice System: Pathways to Incarceration in Virginia,” the ACLU argues that many of the crimes are relatively minor in nature — “nonviolent crimes related to property, public order or drugs.” And, of course, the women themselves often are victims — of poverty, drug addiction or domestic abuse.

States the report:

Incarcerated women often become engaged with the criminal justice system as a result of attempts to cope with challenging aspects of their lives, such as poverty, unemployment, and physical or mental health struggles — especially those arising from drug addiction and past instances of trauma. …

The over-incarceration of women is a symptom of a complex network of social barriers, economic inequality, reproductive injustice, and racial and sexual discrimination deeply woven into our society.”

The ACLU’s bottom line: Society is guilty, not the women. The proffered solution: more study, more “training” of employees in the criminal justice system, more spending on social programs, more spending on substance-abuse programs, more spending on programs to deal with sexual victimization, elimination of cash bail, increasing the felony threshold to at least $1,500, repeal of the three-strikes-and-you’re-out law, and a host of other measures.

Bacon’s bottom line: A handful of ACLU recommendations might be worth considering, such as raising the felony threshold for property crimes, and steering women into substance-abuse programs as a first-time alternative to jail and prison. But one doesn’t need to frame such initiatives as responses to “widespread discrimination” in order to justify them.

Furthermore, not all women are in prison because of petty crimes. Roughly one in seven offenders in crimes of violence are women. The ACLU “reform” agenda would serve mainly to cast women as victims and hold them less accountable for responsibility for their actions, but do very little to curb anti-social behavior. 

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8 responses to “ACLU: The System, Not Female Prisoners, Guilty”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Haven’t taken time to dive into the report, but one question comes to mind quickly: could it be because there are more women on the bench, and they are more willing to incarcerate female defendants?

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    How Bacon can look at this issue and then twist it into “society is guilty” is indicative of a problem.. with how some folks see things.

    I see this as not that different than the issue reported prior about people getting put in prison over unpaid tickets and the such .. and drug charges that wrongly specify small amounts of drugs as “distribution”…

    the point being that prison is PRIMARILY for those that are violent and/or do harm to others – crime – real criminals…

    and instead we are essentially expanding the dragnet to scoop up folks who are in precarious economic circumstances who make bad choices and decisions and get drawn into a criminal justice system that not only does not “correct”.. it does not rehabilitate either – it just adds “ex-convict” to the list of negatives associated with these individuals.

    Don’t confuse these thoughts with feeling sorry for folks – we all make bad decisions and we often live with the consequences and that happens in spades with folks who did not get a good education then spiraled down from there… don’t confuse that – with people who are violent towards others or predators of others … who do need to be locked up and we need not make any insincere words about “helping” them to rehabilitate and integrate back into society.

    We are a dumb and ignorant society when we cannot and will not differentiate between real criminals and people whose lives are rolling disasters..and as bad as they are – they’re not your average “violent offender”.

  3. Crimes against property and neglect of children are still crimes. And the growing drug addiction problem certainly contributes to those, in a gender neutral manner! Sure, violent crime scares me more; but property and social crimes matter. If you are a politician trying to satisfy the requirements of a population that wants to feel safe and keep them in your neighborhood and your tax base and do the right thing by your citizens, you are going to have to address more than violent crime. The ACLU can’t change that fact.

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I’m a big believer in second chances, most especially where there is no violence. People make mistakes – often big ones. Society should look for ways to handle people who are first time offenders not involved in violence that does not involve significant incarceration. And a person who successfully participates in such programs and keeps her/his nose clean for a reasonable amount of time should be able to get the state to expunge the person’s record.

    But if bad conduct continues (and women are equally capable of engaging in bad conduct), tougher sanctions must apply. And that includes jail or prison. And at some point, acts of bad conduct pile up and society needs protection against criminals.

    The ACLU has about as much credibility with me as Hillary Clinton’s latest statement about Christine Blasey Ford – She should be given the benefit of the doubt unlike the accusers of her husband who were called trailer trash. Even Bill’s latest statement to the effect of “Things have changed. Today you cannot do things to people against their will that could do in the past.”

  5. If you want gender equality, then when you do the crime, be prepared to do the time.

  6. NorrhsideDude Avatar

    Another reason to vote full SJW.
    When the cities start restorative justice initiatives and run off the development of the millennial urban housing in 15 years (the millennials will have children needing schools about that time and student loan payments make private school impossible) I’ll be happy to buy up that housing they collapsed by decriminalizing crime.
    I predict the future will be Detroit-like urban centers and those who have the means living in walled neighborhoods with private schools, security, and medical services. The middle class will soon be extinct.

  7. Comment posted on behalf of Bill Farrar, spokesman for the Virginia ACLU:

    Thanks for adding your perspective on our women in the criminal justice system report. You made some great points worth discussing. The only thing I might say now in response is that ACLU-VA does not blame society – we blame a flawed criminal justice system that is punishing women disparately for crimes that are directly motivated by their circumstances without looking at how we might address those circumstances in more sympathetic and non-discriminatory ways than by criminalizing them. Anyway, appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

    1. Bill, thanks for the comment. Upon reflection, I have rewritten the headline to more accurately reflect the ACLU’s position that the judicial system, not society as a whole, is guilty.

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