Women In Prison

Female Incarceration is Part of the Reality
We will Explore at our International
Women’s Day Luncheon on March 8th

Oklahoma puts more women in prison, per capita, than any country on Earth.

Have you reserved your place for our International Women’s Day program / luncheon on Saturday, March 8th? Tickets are just $20, and you can reserve yours now with our online form:

(Sorry … our online registration form has now closed)

The program will be:

Saturday, March 8th
The Center
4325 NW 50th Street
Oklahoma City, OK   73112

Check-in is at 11:30am. The program kicks off at 12 Noon.

Our keynote speaker will be Lou Kohlman, Chair of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women.

As a leader of OCSW, Ms. Kohlman is well-versed in the myriad complex of issues facing Oklahoma women today — including issues of aging, women’s physical and mental health, as well as our state’s high rate of female incarceration.

There are about 2,600 women locked up in Oklahoma’s prisons — a rate of incarceration that is about twice the national average.

A Reuter’s news article in 2013 defined the problem this way: “The female incarceration rate in Oklahoma stands at 121 per 100,000 population, compared with a national average of 65, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.”

Why does Oklahoma lock up so many women?

Kristin Davis, executive director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, addressed this question in a commentary in the Oklahoma Gazette last November. She wrote:

“Many factors contribute to the high female incarceration rate. However, the root cause is one that makes for uncomfortable conversation: the fact that women and girls in our state are not treated well.

“Oklahoma has an inordinate number of girls who suffer abuse and other forms of trauma in childhood and then carry the symptoms of trauma into adulthood.

“The fact that our state ranks among the top five in the U.S. for the rate of child abuse deaths is an obvious indicator of the high rate of child abuse that exists.

“According to the state Department of Corrections, more than 66 percent of incarcerated women report having suffered physical or sexual abuse during childhood. Without resources to provide them with early intervention, treatment or support, these women foundered and made choices, such as self-medication, that led them on a path to prison.”

Beyond the social factors — abuse, poverty, unwed and teen mothers, drug use, etc. — that influence our crime rates, some observers think Oklahoma’s laws are too harsh.

One of these people is Susan Sharp, a University of Oklahoma sociology professor. She has been studying Oklahoma’s treatment of female offenders for the past two decades. She is the editor of the book, “The Incarcerated Woman.”

Dr. Sharp thinks Oklahoma has too many “mean” laws and too many politicians who are unconcerned with the rehabilitation of criminal offenders. (Read a news story about her remarks at a recent forum at the United Way of Central Oklahoma).

Her comments are supported by a fact sheet (pdf) from The Sentencing Project showing that incarceration rates for women have been rising over time — not just in Oklahoma, but nationally as well: 

“The number of women in prison increased by 587% between 1980 and 2011, rising from 15,118 to 111,387.”

Women are more likely to be in prison for drug and property offenses, their report notes, while men are more likely to be in prison for violent offenses. Including women who are on probation and parole, the Sentencing Project estimates that more than a million women across the United States are under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

As noted, the problem of female incarceration is not the only challenge faced by Oklahoma women. But, it is an indicator that helps us to have an informed understanding of the status of Oklahoma women today.

We are fortunate that we will have the perspective of Lou Kohlman to put this condition, as well as others, into a meaningful context for us.

Join us on March 8th — reserve your seat today!
(Sorry … our online registration form has now closed)

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