Population of Female Inmates Grows at Local Prisons

By Scott MacFarlane and Rick Yarborough
|  Thursday, Oct 24, 2013  |  Updated 9:11 AM EDT
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The number of women in local prisons has surged in the past decade, creating strains on local jails and their rehabilitation programs.

Scott MacFarlane and Rick Yarbough

The number of women in local prisons has surged in the past decade, creating strains on local jails and their rehabilitation programs.

The number of women in local prisons has surged in the past decade, creating strains on local jails and their rehabilitation programs.

U.S. Justice Department records reviewed by the News4 I-Team show a surge of 22,000 new female inmates in local lockups nationwide since 2000.

Rare access inside the women’s lockups in Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County, Md. also show increased demand for women’s substance abuse programs in jails.

D.C. jail officials allowed News4 I-Team cameras inside their housing units, and reported a higher percentage of female inmates in the city than previous years.

So many of those inmates report substance abuse problems, the jail has secured a former marine drill instructor to lead a behavioral program called “Adjusting our Attitudes.”

Additional substance abuse counselors have also been secured to deal with the influx. A survey by News4 of a group of 14 inmates in one housing cell showed 11 had suffered drug addictions.

Montgomery County jail leaders have launched a “sisters group," a therapy session led by trained counselors to rehabilitate female inmates with addiction.

A county jail official reported fast growing demand for the jail’s substance abuse programs, even as the overall inmate population in the county decreases. Some of those addiction programs include nine hours of substance abuse rehabilitation each week, a jail official said.

Ginger Carter, a former addict serving a sentence in the Montgomery County jail near Clarksburg, told the News4 I-Team, “Most of the inmates have drug or alcohol problems.”

Carter said the newest inmates show obvious symptoms of withdrawal.

“You go through a period of mood changes and anxiety,” Carter said. 

The influx of women inmates is a result of stiffer drug sentencing laws, according to the Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based public advocacy group that monitors local, state and federal correctional institutions.

“Women don't commit many violent offenses, so their numbers in prison were always very small," Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project said. "When the drug war expanded, there was new potential for rounding them up and sending them to prison."

The number of female inmates has also spiked in Virginia by about 50 percent since 2000, according to U.S. Justice Department records reviewed by News4.

The rise has slowed in recent years, according to the state’s records and public statements.

“Our female population peaked in August 2008 (at 3,082) and then started declining until April 2012 (at 2,716). As of May 2013 we were back up to 2,939,” agency spokeswoman Lisa Kinney said.

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