For Immediate Release: December 10, 2020
Contact: Renee Alves, 559-916-5939
Charleston, WV – Over the past 40 years, the mass incarceration of women in West Virginia has exploded, growing by a staggering 2,731 percent from 1978 to 2019. The incarceration rate of women far exceeds the incarceration rate of men in the Mountain State, and in 2019, West Virginia had the ninth highest rate of female incarceration nationwide.
This report, Mountain State Women Aren’t Always Free: The State of Women’s Incarceration in West Virginia, begins by outlining the rapid growth of female incarceration in the state, honing in on the period between 1990 and 2019, and highlighting how women of color disproportionately bear the brunt of this rise in imprisonment.
The report also explores the consequences of mass female incarceration in West Virginia, arguing that this practice not only severely disrupts the lives of incarcerated women and their families, but also significantly burdens county budgets and keeps state and county governments from investing needed money in other sectors, such as health care and public education.
A large portion of the report is devoted to examining the causes of female incarceration growth in the state, and that the primary driving forces are different than one might expect.
“…the reasons more women are going to prison in West Virginia have less to do with rising crime and more to do with social drivers (like poverty and substance abuse), and policy drivers (like changes in the way police respond to crime, and in sentencing decisions that determine who goes to prison and for how long),” said Rayna Momen, report author. “Factors such as poverty, rural isolation, under-education, and addiction increase the chances that women will come into contact with the criminal legal system and end up behind bars.”
The report ends with a brief discussion of what other states are doing to reduce female incarceration, as well as a deeper exploration of what policy solutions could be adopted here in West Virginia to work toward women’s decarceration.
Find the full report here.
While West Virginia has seen a slight decrease in the women’s prison population since the pandemic hit, it should not have required a public health crisis to decarcerate, and we must have policies in place to prevent reverting right back to the alarming trends we have seen in the state over the past few decades.