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Report: Incarceration rates for women in Arizona prisons sharply increasing

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PHOENIX — Incarceration rates for women in Arizona are increasing sharply, a new report finds.

The report by the political advocacy group FWD.us finds the number of women behind bars in Arizona has more than doubled over the last 18 years, from nearly 2,000 to now more than 4,000, far outpacing the national growth.

Currently, women make up 9 percent of Arizona’s prison population. That’s slightly higher than the national average of 7.5 percent.

Arizona also imprisons women at almost twice the rate compared to other states, at 107 women in prison for every 100,000 residents compared to 57 women per 100,000 residents nationally.

“All that growth is being driven by non-violent crimes,” said Felicity Rose, director of research and policy for criminal justice reform for FWD.us.

According to the report, the number of women admitted to prison in Arizona for non-violent crimes has increased significantly since 2000 and many of those crimes are tied to property and drug offenses. Since 2000, the number of women in Arizona sentenced to prison for these non-violent offenses has increased by more than 250 percent.

“Women today are also getting sentenced directly to prison much more frequently,” Rose said.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he takes issue with that finding.

“You generally cannot go to prison in Arizona the first time you commit a non-violent crime,” he said, adding that that has been even more prevalent over the last five years with more pre-trial intervention programs being implemented.

Montgomery said he also takes issue with the report for not mentioning recidivism programs throughout Arizona prisons. He pointed to those being offered at the Perryville Arizona State Prison Complex, which he toured Wednesday.

“There are tremendous programs being offered there that are having significant impact on the self-esteem that the inmates have, the hope that they have for re-entering society and being able to successfully reintegrate,” he said.

The report also shows women are being kept in Arizona prisons much longer compared to other states. For property crimes, for example, women in Arizona spend eight months longer in prison than women in other states.

“What we know from the research is that time doesn’t really help – it doesn’t reduce recidivism,” Rose said. “It just is longer that those women are spending away from their children.”

She noted incarceration has a particularly high cost for women in children. She said studies have found children whose mothers are behind bars have lower grades in school and are more likely to drop out.

The report is the third and final in a series by FWD.us that takes a look at Arizona’s criminal-justice system.

The first report found Arizona’s prison population has been skyrocketing even though crime has dropped in both total numbers and rate. The second report found Hispanic and black people are disproportionately represented in Arizona prisons and receive longer sentences.

Montgomery said this latest report “gives a very false impression of our criminal justice system.”

“Yet again, it doesn’t mention at all that our overall crime rate hasn’t been this low since 1963,” he said. “It doesn’t mention that for the last two years, Arizona’s prison system has seen negative growth – more people leaving Arizona prisons in the last two years than going in.”

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