Over the past ten years, the number of women inmates in prison in Oregon has jumped 86 percent, due to new laws mandating prison for non-violent crimes. (For men, the increase has been just 28 percent.) Hannah Hoffman’s excellent article in Willamette Week offers a detailed look at why women are the fastest-growing group of inmates in Oregon, and the effects of this criminal justice trend.
The article points out that female inmates cost the state more than male inmates, requiring more staff, medicine, programs, counselors and caseworkers. Hoffman writes, “According to [Department of Corrections] statistics, about a third of female prisoners have not completed high school. More strikingly, the vast majority are diagnosed at their medical evaluation as having mental-health issues. Sixty-four percent of the inmates at Coffee Creek have “serious and persistent mental health diagnoses,” such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and chronic depression, according to the DOC. And 89 percent of the inmate population entered prison addicted to drugs or alcohol.” And since about 75 percent of the women are mothers, the State must also pay for foster care for many of their children.