Oregon women hard-hit by prison population growth

Women's prison population growth outstripped growth in the men's population in every state during the past 27 years. A different trend has emerged since the end of 1999. Women continue to be disproportionately impacted in states where overall growth rates remain high. But among states that experienced little or no prison population growth, a large majority saw growth rates for female prisoners fall below rates for males.

Women led the growth trend in 29 of 30 states where the total prison population (male and female) rose by 10 percent or more over the last half-decade. The opposite was true of states that experienced slower growth or a net decline in their total prison population—13 of 20 saw their male prison population rise more quickly, or decline more slowly, than their female population.

This trend is apparent in Oregon, where women have been disproportionately impacted by prison population growth. The number of women behind state prison bars grew at twice the rate of the male prison population between 1999 and 2004 — rising 68 percent compared to 32 percent for men. Oregon ranked seventh in the nation in female prison population growth over the five-year period.

"The astonishing growth in Oregon's female prison population is a sad commentary on the state's failure to support women who are struggling with addiction," says Brigette Sarabi, Executive Director of the Western Prison Project. "Over the past five years, as we have been locking up women at an unprecedented rate, our state has made deep cuts to substance abuse and mental health services. While other states are trying innovative approaches and seeing positive results, Oregon remains stuck in a 'tough-on-crime' time-warp."

Portions of this story were previously published in Hard Hit: The Growth in the Imprisonment of Women, 1977-2004. Click here for more information on women in prison.