Men comprise 91 percent of the Texas prison population, but as the number of male inmates has dropped, the female population continues to increase.
As the number of incarcerated women grows, however, programs and services for them aren’t keeping up. That’s according to a new, wide-ranging report from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.
Lindsey Linder, a policy attorney at TCJC and the author of the report, says there are trends worth looking at in Texas’ population of women prisoners. Many of them suffer from substance abuse disorders or mental health issues, but they also have other specific needs that aren’t being met.
“They have a lack of access to communicating with their children while they’re incarcerated,” Linder says. “They commonly experience some of the same issues within confinement, such as a lack of access to basic feminine hygiene products. And a lack of access to the same kind of degree programs, certifications and other courses that incarcerated men have.”
Some job training programs are offered to both men and women – but not all.
“There are very few programs that seem to be specifically tailored for women,” Linder says. “Certainly women can do anything, but when we were looking at the types of jobs that are going to be interested in particularly hiring women over men, you don’t think about electrician, carpentry, construction, cabling. Things like that.”
Linder says that’s why women need access to training for the jobs they’re more likely to be successful in after they’re released. She suggests programs in computer science, coding, and basic job preparation.
“Women make up such a small portion of the overall prison population,” she says. “We just haven’t been thinking about them intentionally.”
Linder says some initiatives are already effective, like the Bambi Program, which helps women in Texas prisons stay in contact with their newborns, but it doesn’t reach enough women.
“We all just need to be making sure that we’re paying attention to the specific needs of women,” she says. “Otherwise we’re going to continue to have growing or stagnant numbers of women in the system even as male incarceration declines.”
Written by Jeremy Steen.