After decades of sustained growth, Arizona today has the fourth highest imprisonment rate in the country, meaning it imprisons more of its residents than any other state except for Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Arizona’s prison growth cannot be justified by more crime or a larger state population. Instead, it was driven by policy decisions to send more people to prison for first-time and non-violent offenses, and to keep people in prison far beyond the national average.
Women have been especially impacted by these policy decisions. This report, the third in FWD.us’ Arizona’s Imprisonment Crisis series, examines an oft-hidden consequence of Arizona’s large prison population — the growing number of women behind bars. Female imprisonment has significant ripple effects. Women in prison in Arizona are often mothers and caretakers. Research shows that they are also often victims themselves, as the vast majority have endured past physical and sexual abuse. Today, Arizona imprisons women at almost twice the rate of other states.
Arizona’s rising imprisonment rate has also led to a growing number of families who have had a loved one incarcerated. Research shows that having a family member incarcerated significantly decreases household income, increases the likelihood of divorce and separation, and — for children — leads to a host of problems, including decreased mental and physical health and worsened school outcomes. This report will delve into new findings from a demographic study by FWD.us and Cornell University on the share of people who have had a family member incarcerated and the consequences for families.
All three reports in this series were created using individual-level data on people admitted to Arizona prisons. The first report in the series, “The High Price of Prison Growth,” examines how the state reached this crisis point, and how Arizona’s outsized prison population has come at a high cost to the state’s economy. The second report, “The Cost to Communities,” analyzed these problems on the community level, revealing how some communities in Arizona bear the burden of over-imprisonment more than others. Experts on corrections data cleaned and analyzed prison data in accordance with national standards. See the methodology section for a description of our process and definitions.