Women and Justice Women's Issues

Far More Women Are Being Sent to Prison for Life Than 10 Years Ago, Especially in California

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

California has the highest proportion of women serving life (or virtual life) sentences in state prisons–one out of every four female prisoners, according to a new fact sheet from the Sentencing Project. The state with the next highest rate of life imprisonment among women in prisons is Louisiana, where one in seven imprisoned women will spend her life behind bars.

Nationally, one out of every 15 of the 111,000 women in prison in the U.S. is serving life sentences. One-third of those 7,000 women are serving sentences that do not offer a chance at parole.

These numbers–as is the case with the overall number of women in prison–are on the rise, despite concurrently declining rates of violent crimes among women.

While men make up 97 percent of the lifer population in the U.S., the number of female lifers has grown exponentially over the last decade.

Between 2008 and 2016, the population of women imprisoned for violent offenses increased by 2 percent. At the same time, the number of women serving life sentences jumped 20 percent.

By comparison, the number of men serving life sentences increased 15 percent during that time.

During those same years, the number of women serving life-without-parole sentences shot up 41 percent, while the number of men sentenced to LWOP increased by 29 percent.

Across the nation, there are nearly 300 women serving life sentences for crimes they committed when they were minors. Three states are responsible for half of those life sentences: California (80 women), Georgia (23 women), and Texas (42 women).

Often, women and girls who commit violent acts are victims, themselves, of physical or sexual abuse, or both. More than one-third of female lifers have attempted suicide at least once.

When the Sentencing Project surveyed people serving LWOP sentences for crimes they committed as kids, 80 percent of women said they had previously experienced physical abuse, 77 percent said they were the victims of sexual abuse, and 84 percent said they had witnessed violence at home. A separate study of California women convicted of murder who had survived intimate partner abuse revealed that all but two of the women were given life sentences. Six of the women were sentenced to LWOP. While the other 34 women had received minimum indeterminate sentences carrying between 7 and 15 years in prison, all of them had already served 25 years at the time of the study.

The expanding population of women living behind bars for all–or nearly all–their lives is in direct conflict with the national movement away from mass incarceration born from, among other factors, tough-on-crime policies and racism.

“The unprecedented growth of life sentences in the United States runs counter to declining crime rates and growing challenges to mass incarceration,” according to the Sentencing Project. “The overwhelming majority of individuals who commit crime–even serious crime–will “age out” of criminal behavior, and their continued incarceration diminishes returns on public safety.”

23 Comments

  • These are useless statistics in light of the state drive towards alternatives to incarceration, diversion, and reentry. At some point all that will be left in prison will be the lifers who have proven to be a threat to public safety. Stop the hand wringing and explore why more women are getting involved in violent crime.

  • We all know that correlation does not equal causation; however, investigate how many of these women smoke cigarettes, have an inordinate amount of body piercings, use illicit drugs, and/or have tattoos. Convince women not to do those things, and voila, less women incarcerated.

    Hey, it’s probably better than the liberal hocus pocus advocated by the left.

  • Last night alone doomed the Democrats hope for moving into the White House. That moment came when every D Candidate raised their hands for providing free healthcare for every ILLEGAL immigrant

  • Fed Up, the fact that more women are arrested does not mean more women are committing crime. A while back, for some reason, brown people were committing more moving violations along the I-5 than any other group. Those brown people, for a time, went crazy. But thanks to the fine Sheriff’s officers, maybe the one from Jack-in-the-Box was one of those, they were able to stop many of those pesky brown drivers. Of course, now liberal judges are throwing some cases out. Stupid judges. Everyone knows the Sheriffs Dept does not engage in racial profiling.

    Dose of Reality, you are good. No doubt tattoos and body piercings cause one to commit crimes. Everyone and their mother has tattoos, even many officers. I’ve seen a few of your brethren with arms covered in ink. They are in now. As they would say in your time, don’t be a square.

    Um/Ownership, if we can give you and the other uniformed folks nice salaries, pensions and free healthcare, why not others. We can also cut the bloated military budget. Hell, we spend more on the military than China and Russia, combined, and we are afraid of them. Instead, we pick on the Afghans and the like, and they can still send our boys back with 20 IQ points less or missing some limb, despite them fighting in sandals. Of course, if we spend less on the military, you would have less heroes to worship.

    Ownership, savor the moment. Perhaps Trump may win again, who knows, but the days you long for are no more and not coming back. Probably within your lifetime, White folks will be the minority in this country and your little girl or granddaughter will bring some nice black man, Mexican or Indian home. Be honest, do you not dread that day? You were born too late.

    • Referencing the tragic murder of Deputy Solano to make your non-existent point is pretty low, even by your standards.

    • As the population grows and people become more embolden to violate the rule of law, why should women be any different? Isn’t it sexist to think women are different and aren’t capable of committing crimes just like men?

      Oh, and many of those “brown people” you speak of, that were stopped along the I-5 corridor, were transporting drugs from the border to all points north. Racial profiling is not necessary, any good police officer has plenty of tools at his disposal to legally stop any vehicle traveling on the highway.

  • cf make sure you vote for “Bernie” to get your freebies to continue to live with your parent’s and have money to get your Starbuck’s, beard trimmed and a new pair of “Slide’s” to wear!

  • I guess Celeste didn’t catch the tasteless reference to Deputy Solano in the rant by CF as it got through. What a piece of work work he/she it is. How can anyone be for illegal immigration and free healthcare for all the illegals. Doesn’t their own government have some responsibility to them? Oh, and that old argument that the US “owes these countries” as some type of penance due to past wrongs doesn’t hold water. By that reason shouldn’t Spain owe these people something for being the imperial power that “raped and pillaged “ the indigenous native populations and their land? Let’s quit convoluting the concept of legal immigration across the border with those who enter through legal ports of entry, follow the process and enter legally either. It’s insulting to thinking people. The census question the US Supreme Court avoided was telling, as California protested the loudest due to the possible loss of Federal funding and a US Congressional seat since it banks on tipping the scales due to the large “illegal immigrant count” amounts it’s voters.

    There are many poor whites, blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics (many of whom identify as white) and legal immigrants who need help and aren’t living the “American Dream”. The homeless population is clear, blaring example of that unsolved internal US citizen problem. What about them? Whose advocating or looking out for them? If your own house is not in order, you need to worry fixing it before worrying about your neighbors mess.

    Free education, unfettered immigration and free healthcare….who pays for this? There is a bill and cost that somebody has to ultimately pay. The Democrats are pathetic and know their platform is one of fiscally irresponsibility’s and un-sustainability. They will run the country into the ground. You want references, just look look at their “successes” in managing San Francisco, Los Angeles and California. Those two once great cities are pathetic, dirty, unaffordable for “average people”and an embarrassment to the civilized world. Luckily, we are 50 United States and the Democratic loud mouths running for President don’t strike a chord and their views don’t resonate with the voters outside of California and New York. They see through the crap.

    Donald Trump 2020.

    • I fail to see a distinction between Democrats giving away freebies and Republicans with their tax cuts that are paid through expanding the national debt. $22 trillion and growing, only a problem when the Dems are in charge, right?

  • Editor’s Note:

    Dear “Conspiracy,”

    No, I didn’t see a reference to Deputy Solano, nor did I find it with a quick skim and word search. If I’d seen it, I would have trashed it.

    (Just as I trashed some of the recent utterly vile comments about Kamala Harris.)

    Would you please give me the time and date, if you are able? I’m not in front of my laptop.

    And “CF,” Really???? I trashed one of your earlier comments because of a painfully insensitive reference. Surely you’re better than this!

    Thank you both in advance for your help and cooperation.

    C.

  • Hmmmm….

    “But thanks to the fine Sheriff’s officers, maybe the one from Jack-in-the-Box was one of those, they were able to stop many of those pesky brown drivers. “

  • CF: I’m so glad everyone is seeing right through you. Your anger, racism and pure ignorance is shining more brightly than ever.

    I have 3 daughters. 2 of them have dated black guys and 1 is still dating a black girl. All of them are welcomed into our home because of their hearts and minds, not the color Of their skin.

    I go fishing with my daughter’s girlfriend all the time. I’m sure you’ll twist that into some kind of stupid joke.

    There isn’t a racist bone in my body. I will gladly hand one of my daughters off at the alter, and I could give a rats ass what color they are as long as they treat each other with love and respect.

    I tried with you CF, but your pure hatred and ignorance will no longer be tolerated by me. Your Bullshit is old. YOU’RE the ignorant racist on here. YOU’RE the problem with this country. Until people like YOU are gone, we will never unite as a community.

  • And it’s VERY TELLING when you’re favorite ultra liberal cop hating friend (Celeste) is calling you out on your pathetic Bullshit.

  • Celeste, yes, I am better than that. I’m not sure what the gentlemen refer to as a tasteless reference. Perhaps Officer Solano did patrol the I-5 when the fine Sheriff Dept was catching all the brown drivers speeding down the I-5. Not sure how that is tasteless. A very real possibility, I suspect.

    The tasteless comment was the one where one these fine specimens expressed his believe that Eric Garner was a piece of shit that deserved to die. If I recall, those where the words. Was Officer Solano, because he had a government job, that much better than Eric Gardner? And, since when does death absolve one of their sins.

    I am reminded of my third grade teacher who made me apologize for making a comment to the portly school bully. In that spirit, I am sorry if I heard anyone’s feelings. Sooooorry.

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