The number of incarcerated women in North Carolina is growing faster than the number of incarcerated men. According to statistics from Prison Policy Initiative, the number of women in the state prison population increased 19% from 2009 to 2015. In that same time period the number of men in the state prison population increased only one percent.
This trend matches what is happening at the national level. What is behind this gender gap? Host Frank Stasio talks with a range of experts about the research, policy and potential solutions.
Rebecca Epstein shares her research into how the perception that black girls are more adult-like and less innocent than their white counterparts could increase their chances of ending up in the criminal justice system. National statistics show black girls are suspended more than five times as often as white girls and are 2.7 times more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system.
Epstein is the executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and shares her research into adultification bias, including two recent studies: “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood” and “Listening to Black Women and Girls: Lived Experiences of Adultification Bias."
William Lassiter and Wanda Bertram continue the conversation through a deeper dive into the relationship between the juvenile justice system and women’s incarceration. Lassiter is deputy secretary of juvenile justice at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and contextualizes the experience of young women in North Carolina’s juvenile justice system.
Bertram is the communications strategist for Prison Policy Initiative and details the nonprofit organization’s research into the gender divide in mass incarceration. Their analysis showcases the unique challenges faced by women in the penal system, including that nearly half of incarcerated women are held in local jails and many of them have not yet been convicted of a crime.
Scholar Jessica Smith closes out the conversation with a look into one possible solution to decrease the number of women in jails: bail reform. Smith is the W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Government and has spent time looking into bail alternatives being used in North Carolina, including pre-trial supervision and services.
Activist Kyla Hartsfield provides examples of on-the-ground bail reform in the state. She is the North Carolina State Organizer for Southerners on New Ground, a regional queer liberation organization. She is also involved in the #FreeBlackMamas campaign which works with groups across the country to post bail for African-American mothers and caregivers before Mother’s Day each year.