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Incarceration rates are a topic that so many people find interesting, as it gives us an idea of what is happening in our country. 

Gender differences for incarceration 

Since the justice system was created, men have dominated both federal and state prisons. Looking at male vs female incarceration rates, it is clear that men are more commonly incarcerated than women. 

In both federal and state prisons, the ratio of men to women is at least 9:1. Comparing this to the overall population in the US, which is around 51% female and 49% male, this hints that men are more criminally inclined than women. 

However, that is not always the case and several researchers are attempting to find links between women and more relaxed sentences. 

While women are commonly given more relaxed sentences, it is not because of inequality and prejudice against men. The reason why women tend to have shorter sentences is because they are typically found guilty of drug related crimes.

Men, on the other hand, are more often found guilty of violent crimes, such as rape, assault, and murder. These crimes hold much heavier penalties than drug related crimes, which is why men are given harsher sentences. 

Women’s rates are increasing

While there might be a substantially smaller number of women incarcerated in the US, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be paying attention to the numbers. There are roughly 6.8% or women in federal prisons which, out of 185,500 inmates, is 12,700 women.

Federal prisons only hold around 9% of the total number of offenders, however, so you can imagine how many more women inmates there are around the US. 

Between the 1980s and the 1990s, there was a staggering increase in women incarcerated, tripling the number of inmates within just 10 years. The rate of growth shows no signs of slowing down, either, with incarcerated women on a fast trajectory. 

The question that we need to answer is: why are these rates increasing? Unfortunately, no one has been able to come up with a clear answer for this question yet. However, there have been studies showing circumstances that might be linked to the increasing number of incarcerated women. 

The first possible cause is a lack of assets and life in poverty. A lot of women incarcerated are single mothers, and even more have reported lack of financial stability. Poverty has been linked to mental health issues, which is another common theme in women committing crime. 

We’ve already mentioned that most women are incarcerated on account of drug related crime, and substance abuse can be spurred on by mental health disorders and poverty. 

But what is causing the rate to increase? Many people believe it has something to do with choices made in the past by officials that are now considered regrettable. We think that the cost of living plays a big part. 

The rates of women being incarcerated have been quickly increasing since the 1980s. Since then, the cost of living has increased by 237.32%. With salaries and government help failing to catch up to the increased cost of living, it is no wonder that a lot of people have now found themselves in poverty. 

Easier access to stronger drugs might also play a part in the higher rates of incarceration. 

The US has the highest incarceration rate for women in the world, with many of the states having a higher rate than whole countries. So, it’s important that we look into why this rate is increasing so much in hopes to slow it down and prevent crimes from being committed.

Women are treated differently than men

Women’s prisons are often misconstrued as being the same as men’s prisons, although this could not be further from the truth. There are many differences between the two, with female prisons being compared to men’s minimum or medium security prisons. 

One of the main differences is the security level, with female inmates being able to share dormitory-type rooms with other women, without barbed wire fences and armed guard towers. 

This is due to the fact that women are often incarcerated for less violent crimes such as drug related offences, whereas men typically commit more violent crimes and therefore require stronger security measures. 

Another difference is that women tend to have less access to rehabilitation programs, despite often being single mothers, suffering from mental health disorders, or having reduced sentences. 

There is a need for better rehabilitation programs for incarcerated women, similar to what men have. 

The typical female offender

It can be helpful to learn about typical characteristics of women inmates in the hopes of learning why they have committed the crime in the first place, or try to stop the crime being committed at all. 

By looking at the typical characteristics of female offenders, we can see where we need to offer more support in society so that people don’t feel as though they need to commit the crime. 

A few typical characteristics include childhood trauma or victimization through abuse, a background of poverty, or a lack of human capital. 


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