WASHINGTON, DC – A new report issued today by FWD.us finds that Arizona’s imprisonment crisis comes at a high cost to women and families. The number of imprisoned women in Arizona has more than doubled since 2000, driven by the state’s growing reliance on prison terms for non-violent and first-time offenses. It also details the impact of prison on families, as a shockingly high number of people — one in two adults in the United States — has had an immediate family member incarcerated.
The report, Arizona’s Imprisonment Crisis: The Harm to Women and Families, is the third in a three-part series outlining the imprisonment crisis facing the state of Arizona and detailing the often-hidden costs of Arizona’s large and growing prison population.After decades of sustained prison growth, Arizona today has the fourth highest imprisonment rate in the country, and the state prison system costs taxpayers more than $1 billion each year without making the state safer. This prison growth cannot be explained by more crime or a larger resident population — instead, it has been driven by policy choices to send more people to prison for first-time and non-violent offenses, and to keep people in prison far beyond the national average.
“Decades of poor policy choices in Arizona have created an imprisonment crisis that hits women and families hard, creating a painful ripple effect on children throughout Arizona,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte. “Thirty-two states have shown that it’s possible to reduce their prison populations while keeping communities safer and protecting taxpayer dollars – Arizona can and must do better.”
As Arizona has increasingly turned to prison terms for less serious offenses, more women have been drawn into the prison system. The number of women in prison in Arizona has doubled since 2000, growing from just under 2,000 women to more than 4,000 women behind bars. The number of women sentenced directly to prison for non-violent drug and property crimes— without an opportunity to serve a community-based sentence like drug court or probation — has grown by more than 250 percent since 2000. Additionally, a growing share of women sent to prison have no prior felony convictions. In 2000, only four percent of women sentenced to prison had no prior felony convictions. By 2017, that proportion had grown to 34 percent.
Growth in the number of women behind bars has significant consequences. Fifty-three percent of women in prison in Arizona reported having a dependent, likely a minor child. Nationwide, research has shown that a majority of mothers in prison lived with their children prior to their incarceration. The same research found that mothers in prison are often single parents, meaning that, when they go to prison, their children are more likely to end up in foster care or other government-run placement.
The report further dives into the scope of familial incarceration. New national research from FWD.us and researchers at Cornell University shows that one in two adults (45 percent) in America have had an immediate family member spend at least one night in jail or prison. While the majority of families have been exposed to short-term incarceration, long prison sentences also affect a surprising number of families. One in seven adults has had an immediate family member incarcerated for longer than one year, and one in 34 has had an immediate family incarcerated for more than 10 years.
FWD.us is committed to working alongside and supporting diverse, bipartisan coalitions of Arizonans looking for responsible, data-driven criminal justice solutions. This report covers 30 years worth of data and FWD.us analyzed almost 500,000 records trying to understand why the prison population has grown and what the cost has been to Arizona’s economy, communities, and families.The report released today is the final in a three part series. The first report in the series focused on the impact to Arizona’s economy, while the second report focused on the harm borne disproportionately by black and Hispanic communities in Arizona.