My crime is considered a victimless one, but I say, there are no
victimless crimes. My family, my children and I are the victims of my
crime. My crime is a disease; the disease of addiction -- cunning,
baffling and powerful. (AA Big Book, How It Works).
Here are some staggering statistics:
Since 1990, the number of women inmates has grown at an
average rate of 8.5 percent and has increased 92 percent!
Nearly one-third of women serving time in state prisons
report that they committed their offense to get money to buy drugs.
More than half the women in prison report committing their
offense under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Nearly 6 in 10 women in state prison report having
experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past.
The typical female offender comes from a single parent home
in which other family members have been incarcerated.
Approximately 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers,
and two-thirds have children under the age of 18. Seventy-two (72)
percent of women prisoners with children under the age of 18 lived with
those children before entering prison.
There are now 150,00 women incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails. Most
women are in jail as a direct result of drug and alcohol addiction. $109
million is going to supervise 54,000 people in prison and $9 million for
Over one million people are arrested each year on drug related charges.
If the jail population continues to grow at the current rate, by the year
2053 the U.S. will have more people in jail than out.
DOC data shows that about one-fourth of those initially imprisoned for
non-violent crimes are sentenced a second time for committing a violent
offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility
that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to
As a person who has run the gamut from rehabs, to jails, to prison, I
speak from personal experience when I say that addiction is a disease and
those who are in its grip need help – not prison. It should be treated as
a public health issue and not a criminal issue.
Communities should take responsibility and become involved in getting and
giving education, reaching out to their communities to offer assistance
helping addicts find hope through programs that take a holistic approach to
their disease. Addicts need programs that heal body, mind and, most
importantly, their shattered spirit.
Let me clearly state I am not saying addicts who commit crimes should go
unpunished. I do believe, however, alternatives to incarceration are more
cost effective. Programs that stress rehabilitation, allows the offender an
opportunity to re-enter society as a responsible and productive citizen.
The prison system has become a revolving door for drug offenders. Upon
serving their sentence, they are released back into the same environment
from which they came, without any skills or education to change their
situation. Often the knowledge they have gained in prison is better ways to
commit more crimes.
The number of women under correctional supervision has increased by 71.8
percent and drug offenders were the largest source of growth.
Research on women’s pathways into crime clearly suggests that gender
matters in the forces that propel women into criminal behavior and
therefore, gender must be taken into account..
Women in prison have experienced far higher rates of physical and sexual
abuse than their male counterparts. 43% of women surveyed reported they had
been abused at least once before their current admission to prison.
Many women suffer from some form of mental illness or co-occurring
disorder. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (1999c), nearly 8 in
10 female mentally ill offenders reported prior physical or sexual abuse.
The women in our criminal justice system have histories of trauma and
substance abuse. Most are non-violent offenders and are not considered to be
threats to the community. Their greatest needs are for comprehensive
treatment for drug abuse and trauma recovery, education and training in job
and parenting skills, and safe and sober housing.
When women do enter treatment programs, they find recovery complicated by
childcare issues, inadequate social support systems, and lack of financial
resources. They also suffer from higher rates of eating disorders,
co-occurring disorders, and health problems. Treatment for women offenders
must take these complex issues into account.
Oftentimes, (I have experienced this myself) women are thrown into
whatever programs are provided by the State or DOC, regardless of whether
these programs meet the particular needs of the offender. Obviously, for all
our time, effort, and money, we are no closer to solving the problem of
women committing crimes. Perhaps, what we need to do is simply go back to
the basic – to reduce our treatment of women offenders to the lowest
denominator, that of human and humane contact.
We need to see the anti-social behaviors as a product of unfortunate
circumstances, of childhood brutality, neglect, or victimization, and ask what needs there
women are trying to meet in such dysfunctional ways.
If we respond to these needs on a personal level, in a way that engenders
trust and confidence, women offenders can begin to hope again and the lives
of families can be rebuilt. If people do not have hope, there is nothing to
strive for, no reason to change.
Instead of incarceration, I believe it would be more cost-effective to
put women offenders in a community based program similar to the work release
program that is used for prisoners after incarceration.
These programs would allow the individual to maintain a job, yet they
would be held accountable for all their time. They would receive counseling
on an individual basis geared toward each one’s individual needs.
I also believe community service work would be extremely beneficial. I
don’t mean picking up garbage and scraping graffiti from walls, which only
further adds to a sense of worthlessness. Why not allow them to spend time
soothing the cries of a baby born addicted to drugs, or let them read
stories to children in hospitals dying of cancer, let them feed the hungry
and homeless, let them do something that reaches to the very foundation of
their soul and eventually I believe they will begin to realize and appreciate
the precious gift life is.
A holistic approach would first heal the body with proper nutrition and
regular exercise. Their minds should be given positive ways to deal with
their personal stressors. They needs ways to learn how to regain respect for
themselves, how to love themselves again and begin to rebuild their low
self-esteem. Most importantly, and most often not implemented in community
programs, ways for women to heal within. Spiritual growth that would allow
women to find direction and focus teaching them to embrace their spirit
within where they eventually learn they have always had everything they’ve
ever needed right inside themselves.
The best programs combine supervision and services to address the
specialized needs of female offenders in highly structured, safe
environments where accountability is stressed.
In conclusion, I believe that if communities would make an effort to
educate themselves and their communities about the disease of alcoholism and
addiction, they would begin to understand the magnitude of the problem.
Although there are no easy solutions, we must all accept the responsibility
of educating our children, offer new and innovative programs that heal
holistically, and most importantly, accept responsibility that as citizens
we must reach out to help those in our communities who are struggling,
offering them hope, support and encouragement. The bottom line is, what it
all comes down to is – GET INVOLVED AND HELP!!!
is presently in a work release center in Aurora, Illinois, and is studying
Criminal Justice. She is hoping to develop and implement new,
innovative programs for women that would give drug offenders a chance to live in
a highly structured, save environment while being able to work and support their
You can contact Ms. Schwartz at:
Fox Valley A
1329 N. Lake Street
Aurora, IL. 60510