The Girlfriend Problem: How Sentencing Laws Affect Women & Children
The Public Safety, Sentencing and Incarceration Reform Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives is hosting a luncheon briefing on the effect of current sentencing laws on women and children. A distinguished panel with offer personal stories and policy recommendations. Lunch will be provided.

June 12, 2005

The Girlfriend Problem: How Sentencing Laws Affect Women & Children

Tuesday, June 14th, 12pm – 2pm
2226 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C.

Women are the fastest growing group in the ever-expanding prison population. Sentencing laws have caused the number of women behind bars to explode, leaving in the rubble displaced children and overburdened families. Current drug laws punish not just those who sell drugs, but also a wide range of people who help or associate with those who sell drugs.

The length of a sentence usually depends on the quantity of drugs a person possesses or distributes. Where a person is charged with conspiracy in a drug crime, sentences often reflect the total amount of drugs possessed or sold by everyone in the operation. As a result, even when they have minimal, if any, involvement in the drug trade, non-violent women with little or no prior criminal history are increasingly captured in the ever widening net cast by the war on drugs. They are often subjected to the same, or in some cases, harsher sentences than the principals in the drug trade at whom the sentencing statutes were aimed. In too many cases, women are punished for the act of remaining with a boyfriend or husband engaged in drug activity, who is typically the father of her children. Many of these women have histories of physical and sexual abuse and/or untreated mental illness.

Ill-informed policies spawned by the war on drugs adversely impact children. In 1999 almost 1.5 million minor children had an incarcerated parent, with over 65% of women incarcerated in state prison having a minor child. The children are often placed in the care of friends or family – often leading to financial and emotional hardships – or end up in an overburdened child welfare system where they are at increased risk of becoming victims of sexual or physical abuse or neglect.

This briefing will provide a portrait of women in the criminal justice system and provide recommendations to help inform and improve policymaking. It is co-hosted by the Caught in the Net Working Group (American Civil Liberties Union, Break the Chains-Communities of Color and the War on Drugs, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the Open Society Policy Center).

Panel participants will include:

  • Kassaundra Lomax – daughter of incarcerated mother
  • Jesselyn McCurdy – legislative counsel, ACLU
  • Pat Nolan – President, Justice Fellowship
  • Christina Rathbone – journalist & author, A World Apart; Women, Prison and Life Behind Bars
  • Kemba Smith – formerly incarcerated mother
  • Nkechi Taifa – moderator, OSPC

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