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Response to annm4peace (Original post)

Sat Jan 26, 2013, 02:28 AM

2. just some of the stories

Why are women the fastest-growing prison population?
By HOLLY KERNAN on October 17, 2011 - 5:22pm


In the last 25 years, women have been the fastest growing prison population in the United States and in California. Between the Ď70s and the 2000s, the number of female inmates in state prisons serving a sentence of over a year has grown by 757%.

Between 1985 and 2007, the number of women in prison increased by nearly double the rate of men. At the height of Californiaís prison boom, in the late 1990s, Theresa Martinez was shipped to a brand new prison in Chowchilla.

The two prisons in Chowchilla were built to house the ballooning population of women, incarcerated mostly for drug-related crimes.

THERESA MARTINEZ: And as the population grew, they were bringing busloads and busloads of women and we were filling up the rooms. At first we started with four bunks. And then more bunks got put in there, that was six. And then eight. Which is past the fire laws. Which they donít care about the fire laws, somehow they got past that too. And thereís eight in a room now. And basically youíre told when to eat. Each unit goes at a time to eat. You have to wait in line for canteen. You have to wait in line for medical. Donít catch the flu and have to put in a co-pay, because youíll have to wait two days anyway.

Martinez is one of 13 women featured in the new book, Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Womenís Prisons.

The bookís editors Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman joined KALWís Holly Kernan for this interview.

* * *

HOLLY KERNAN: A lot of people, women in particular, are caught up in the system because of drugs. Letís hear a little bit more of Theresa Martinezís on how she eventually ended up spending a long, long time behind bars.

THERESA MARTINEZ: By the time I was five, I used to self-inflict pain on myself. I remember hitting the back of my head against walls, or pulling my hair, even biting myself, out of just pure anger because I didnít know how Ö I didnít know why things were the way they were Ė I was too little to understand. But I wanted to know why my friends had a mother and a father and brothers and sisters, and I didnít have any of that.

I started running away from my grandparentsí house at the age of 12, and I got into PCP, smoking PCP. At age 15 I got pregnant with my daughter. My daughter was born with 9.8 phencyclidine in her system. I was charged for that Ė got sent to youth authority. From youth authority I graduated straight into the prison system, adult prison system, and Iíve been on parole for the past 26 years of my life.

So you can pretty much imagine, Iím very much used to institutions; I consider them my home. I had no other way of knowing there was a better life for me. I just knew thatís what I deserved and thatís where I had to be. And I kind of adapted to the prison system to where I would come out for 90 days and it was like a vacation. Coming out to the free world was a vacation and I had to go right back in again to where what I knew, and it became my comfort zone Ė prison.

KERNAN: Martinez is now 45, and sheís recently gotten off of parole. How common is a story like Theresaís?

ROBIN LEVI: Itís ubiquitous. The story of incarceration, particularly of incarceration of women in this country, is an artifact of the war on drugs. When we decided to increase the penalties for drug use, for drug sale, so astronomically Ė we began pouring hundreds of thousands of people in the prison system. We now in this country incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, certainly more than any other western country.

KERNAN: And why is it that women are the fastest growing prison population? Thatís really happened over the last two decades.

LEVI: And that is the war on drugs. So women are being caught with mandatory minimums, and judges have less discretion in terms of sentencing. In addition women are often the lowest on the totem pole; they have very little to offer in terms of a deal. So they again end up being caught and being put on a mandatory minimum on a required sentence.

AYELET WALDMAN: Let me give you two scenarios. Letís say before we had these mandatory minimum sentences Ė and what a mandatory minimum sentence says is the judge has no discretion, for this weight of drugs, you are sentenced to 10 years Ė doesnít matter where you are in the conspiracy, doesnít matter if youíre the kingpin or the lowest person on the totem poleÖ

KERNAN: Or if you just lived in the houseÖ

WALDMAN: If you happened to have carried a box from point A to point B, all you have to do is know about the conspiracy and commit one overt act in furtherance of it that doesnít even have to be an illegal act.

So it used to be Ė letís take it back 30 or 40 years Ė a woman would come before the court whose husband was a drug dealer. She is a mother of three, and was nominally involved Ė took a phone message. The judge would look at that woman and the judge would say, ďThere are three children dependent on you. Itís ridiculous to incarcerate you. You have no history of criminal offense. Your husband was the person involved. Iím going to give you probation so you can take care of your children. Iím going to give you some kind of home-monitoring. Iím going to give you drug treatment if youíre addicted to drugs.Ē

Fast forward post the mandatory minimum sentencing, and what happens is that judge has no choice. One of the things you cannot take into consideration are ordinary family circumstances. We had a case where a woman had five foster children who were dependent on her, and it doesnít matter if you have five foster children who are going to go back into the system whose lives are going to be ruined. You canít take that into consideration. Doesnít matter if your husband was the drug dealer and you werenít. Nothing matters except one thing: whether you can barter information for a lower sentence.

So who barters? The person higher up on the totem pole. The higher up you are, the more you know, the more people you can rat, and the more likely you are to get a lower sentence. So we have this reverse system now where the drug kingpins are going for very little time if at all and the people who are serving the longest sentence are the lowest on the totem pole. And women are invariably the lowest on the totem pole.

KERNAN: And you touched upon the fact that there are these ripple effects which is that women are often the caretakers of children Ė whatís happening to all of these children who are left essentially without a mom?

LEVI: More than 66%, more than two-thirds of the women in prison are primary caretakers of children under 18. And so whatís happening is that many of these children are going into the foster care system, which is not supportive in pretty much any way, and certainly not to older children coming in. And so you can try and get your child set up with a guardian, but thereís a lot of restrictions as to who can be a guardian. So if you have any violent felony on your history, whether itís five years ago or 10, you canít become a guardian to that child. If you have someone else living in your house who was maybe on parole, you canít become a guardian of that child. So like I said, these children go into the foster care system.

In addition, what the Adoption and Families Act which was passed in around 1994, theyíve really accelerated the rate at which you can get your parental rights terminated. And so if youíve got a child under three, in California, within six months your parental rights can be terminated.

WALDMAN: So effectively, your punishment for possessing drugs is losing your child forever.

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