The number of women in prison in Kansas has grown significantly. Topeka Correctional Facility, the only women’s prison in the state, is now slightly above capacity.
The number of women in Kansas prisons has risen by 60 percent in the past decade, while the number of men has grown by only 14 percent, according to reporting from Kansas Public Radio.
Kansas is not unique in the growth of female prisoners. Numbers of incarcerated women are growing nationally. The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit research organization based in Massachusetts, reports that nationwide, women’s state prison populations grew 834% over the past 40 years, twice the rate of men’s growth.
Women are now the fastest-growing incarcerated population.
Women still make up a fairly small percentage of the overall prison population. Their comparatively small numbers mean that most training, rehabilitation and treatment programs designed for offenders were designed around incarcerated men.
Female offenders, however, are different than male offenders. The Prison Policy Initiative reports women have less access to money, making pre-trial detention in local jails more likely due to inability to afford bail. They are more likely to be in the criminal justice system due to nonviolent drug offenses.
More than 80 percent of incarcerated women are mothers, and most of those were primary caretakers for their children before being incarcerated. They are more likely to have mental health conditions and significantly more likely to have experienced domestic or sexual abuse.
After serving their sentences, differences persist. Women are less likely to recidivate when compared to male offenders, but they are also more likely to be homeless. They are more likely to return to prison or jail for violating conditions of their probation or parole.
Preventing women’s crimes requires different approaches and interventions than men’s. The influence of domestic and sexual violence on women’s criminal behavior cannot be overstated. Many women in prison have experienced violence, and their abusive partners are often involved in criminal activity.
Keeping women out of jails and prisons will certainly require support for victim’s services.
The network of 26 victim services programs around Kansas needs public and private support to offer counseling, shelter and other services to support victims. The most recent survey from the National Network to End Domestic Violence found that 221 victims of abuse in Kansas asked for services local programs were unable to provide in a single day.
Batterer’s Intervention Programs, which work to prevent abuse by working with offenders, are also critical to the effort and in need of support.
Drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment and other critical social safety net services can have a large impact on women’s likelihood of offending. The resources we offer women, particularly those with mental health conditions, addictions or living in poverty, have a real impact on the number of women that end up in our jails and prisons at taxpayer expense.
Kansas can and must do more to keep women out of prisons.