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Gender and sentencing: A meta-analysis of contemporary research

There are currently over one million women under the supervision of the United States criminal justice system. n2 This includes more than 100,000 women incarcerated in local jails and federal and state prisons. n3 These statistics are not entirely surprising given that since 1985, women have been entering prison at twice the rate of males and now represent the fastest-growing segment of the United States prison population. n4 Scholars credit amplified law enforcement efforts, changes to state and federal sentencing guidelines, and "equality with a vengeance" for the dramatic growth in the female prison population. n5 Statistics reveal that the number of female arrests has risen 34% from the early 1980s through 2000. n6 However, the 34% increase in arrests provides only a partial explanation for the 400% jump in female imprisonment. n7

Changes in state and federal sentencing policies are, by far, the most commonly cited cause of the expansion in the female prison population. n8 Researchers point specifically to the "war on drugs" and associated sentencing policies as being primarily responsible for new trends in female sentencing practices. n9 As a result of these policies and practices, women stand a higher chance of serving time for drug offenses than men. n10


Bontrager, S., Barrick, K., & Stupi, E. (2013). Gender and sentencing: A meta-analysis of contemporary research. Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, 16, 349.