Quite frankly, the criminal justice system is a mess. It is brutal, unfair and rarely completes its purpose. Women are one of the groups dealt a harsh hand of cards pertaining to the criminal justice system. They also suffer from painful daily circumstances and violent abuse in jails. In fact, more women are incarcerated now than ever. Women are also the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the U.S.

Prisons need a major reconstruction from top-to-bottom. After reading about the brand of abuse incarcerated women face, I was appalled. I was even more angered after learning there was no fool-proof recourse to the issues these women face.

The U.S. boasts the highest incarceration for women in the world. To put this statement in perspective, only 4% of the world’s female population lives in the U.S., but our country accounts for over 30% of the world’s incarcerated women, according to Forbes. The U.S. incarcerates women at over 10 times the rate of other countries.

While not surprising, these statistics demonstrate the liberties this country takes with women’s freedom. The main cause of the increase in the number of female prisoners is the War on Drugs, “a campaign, led by the federal government, aimed to reduce the illegal drug trade in the United States.” Sure, we can protect our country, but I also believe we should do it fairly and effectively. The criminal justice system is doing a terrible job of this currently.

“More than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial,” said the Prison Policy initiative, a non-profit designed to produce research to expose the harm in mass-criminalization. Pre-trial incarceration poses a specific risk to women, considering a whopping 80% of the women in jail are mothers and the primary caretakers of children.

The facts are even worse when looking at what happens inside the prison. Over 85% of incarcerated women are sexual abuse survivors, and the abuse continues during their sentences. In 2015, over 50% of allegations of abuse in prisons were made by inmates against staffers.

Female prisoners quite literally cannot escape their abuser. They also face significantly terrifying circumstances if they try to fight back against their abusers. Female prisoners put themselves at risk of retaliation if they speak up, and in a prison, where nobody cares, who knows how harsh the consequences could be?

Pregnant prisoners are also targeted specifically because of their pregnant status. Over half of the states in the U.S. don’t have laws against shackling female prisoners during childbirth, a barbaric practice that has clear medical risks attached to it. What flight risk is a woman engaged in one of the most painful experiences known to man? Pregnant female prisoners also rarely meet the minimum diet for their prenatal diets.

America is brutal to its prisoners, especially women. I’m happy we’re having the conversation about criminal reform, but we also need systems in place to prevent and fight the horrible practices that are currently occurring in correctional facilities.

Maya Stevenson is a 20-year-old English and economics sophomore from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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