Women in Prison: Casualties of the War on the Poor
By Ilana Sabban
Women in prisons and girls in juvenile detention centers are the fastest growing population in the entire prison system of the United States. And not only are women in prison separated from their own children, but once released many women face poverty, as the Drug and Felony Disenfranchisement Laws make these women ineligible for welfare or even “workfare.” These laws have left 100,000 women without the safety net of such programs and, as a result, 135,000 children have also fallen through the social-safety net.
In the District alone more than two thirds of all women in prison are mothers, most are single parents. With so many mothers behind bars children are often left to be raised by their grandparents or warehoused in the foster care system. And because women of color are 8 times more likely to be arrested than white women (Amnesty International USA), many African-American children are robbed of their families and end up being raised in foster care. The separation of parent and child is not only emotional traumatic, but it leaves children without parents to supervise their education and opens up a troubling cycle of incarceration, as children of incarcerated parents are far more likely to end up in prison themselves.
Arresting and caging our mothers, affects every societal ill that is spoken of, yet this problem is rarely addressed. On Saturday, June 1 the Washington, DC chapter of Critical Resistance (a national organization dedicated to abolishing the prison industrial complex) held a rally at Lincoln Park to bring attention to this issue. The rally had such distinguished speakers as Patricia Allard of the Sentencing Project, and long time activist Brenda Smith, who is a professor of law at American University. This event was one of the first steps Critical Resistance is taking to bring the community together, so we can work to re-unite families of color and recognize the link between incarceration and other societal problems such as poverty, foster care, and education. Our communities have been under attack through profiling, police brutality, and incarceration for far too long, it’s time to join the efforts of such organizations as Critical Resistance and fight back!