[Reaction] “Orange is the New Black”: The Reality of Women behind Bars

The hit Netflix show “Orange is the New Black” makes some people cringe due to its dramaticized character development, but it has, without a doubt, brought women in prison into the light, and has humanized a population that is often viewed as “faceless criminals.” The article from Social Justice Solutions connects the hit show with a pressing real-world social issue: nationwide more and more women are landing behind bars, even while the number of men in prison is starting to decrease.

The article highlights some national statistics about incarcerated women:

  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the female prison population grew by 11 percent over the last four years
  • The number of incarcerated women grew at a rate 1.5 times greater than that of men
  • There are about 205,000 women in prisons and jails & over 800,000 under supervision of probation and parole
  • The Bureau of Justice Assistance found 82% of participants (in a random sample of women in rural and urban jails) met the criteria for lifetime substance abuse or dependence; and 43% met the criteria for a lifetime serious mental illness
  • The ACLU reported that 85-90% of women inmate have a history of domestic and sexual abuse
  • 75% of incarcerated women are primary caregivers for their dependent children
  • 2.5 million children have a parent behind bars (including fathers)

See the article here: The reality of “Orange is the New Black”

As this article points out, the vast majority of incarcerated women have experienced trauma in their past. Without adequate treatment, a history of trauma can lead to substance abuse, low self-esteem, feelings of isolation from society, and mental illness. These repercussions of trauma are often underlying triggering factors for incarcerated women.  Even after leaving prison, many women continue to suffer from the effects of trauma, and often fail to get on a stable treatment plan due to financial and insurance issues, or a lack of knowledge of how to access resources.

For another article of interest to people interested in how trauma affects not only the criminal justice system, but physical health and general well-being, read: The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Many CWIT clients arrive having never received real treatment for their traumatic events. At CWIT, we work to address the underlying causes that led a woman to become incarcerated in addition to providing the basics of food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. CWIT works with the women to connect them to mental health professionals, as well as to sources of insurance such as Gateway to Better Health. CWIT also provides financial support so the women are not inhibited by the cost of appointments and prescribed medications. CWIT’s case managers, restorative justice coordinator, and volunteer mentors work as a team to provide emotional support and guidance to the women as they go through the difficult process of facing their traumatic past, often for the first time.



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