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American crime and punishment is an extremely important issue to discuss, particularly in the area of the increasing population of women in prison. Most people believe that those incarcerated are there because they are a danger to society or they have committed some heinous crime. That just is not the case concerning women in prison. Of course, there are exceptions, every state has women that have committed vicious crimes but these are not the crimes that have caused the increase in the prison population.

Who are the women in prison?

The majority of the offenses for which women are incarcerated today are drug related. The "War on Drugs" has overwhelmingly targeted women, but not for being drug lords, but rather for being drug users. Further, mandatory minimums and media distortions have led to this increase of women in prison. In addition, we must remember that we live in a society that continues to be male oriented and dominated, in which women are receiving prison time for crimes that historically drew probation, and longer and harsher sentences for the same crimes their male counterparts commit. The most typical convictions which result in prison time for women are larceny, check forgery, fraud, prostitution and possession. Most are economic crimes; the majority of incarcerated women were living below the poverty level before their convictions.

Women convicted of violent offenses were mostly accessories in crimes committed by men or defending their lives against abusive partners.

Beyond the "war on crime" and "war on drugs," my research has taught me that the main reason for an increase in the population of women's prisons is the lack of funding for programs offering these women a future. Most of these women enter prison drugged up, emaciated, on the verge of overdosing, and in desperate need of help. But instead they are offered physical recovery. They have a bed, food and clothing allowing their starving and deteriorating bodies to strengthen with sleep and food. These women use their "bid" (prison lingo for their prison time) to recover physically, gaining the weight they lost, and then return to their old way of life. The unfortunate result, of course, is returning to prison or frequently death, because their bodies cannot take anymore.

Our system is doing little to help these women, other than incarcerating them and allowing them to plump back up and return to the drugs that led them to jail in the first place. As such, there is so much suffering for these victims of drug addiction and their families. They are not offered the opportunity to truly recover from addiction; they are simply pacified to keep society thinking that the drug problem is being taken care of. In the mean time, lives are devastated and the futures bleak for the children of these "criminals."

Something needs to be done. These women are not vicious criminals, whose problems are fixed by incarceration. Society is not rehabilitating these women; society has become an enabler, encouraging them to continue their ways. The result is anger directed at a system that desires to keep women submissive and under control, and that does not solve the problem; a problem that affects more than just the imprisoned woman, a problem that affects her family, especially her children. It has become painfully clear that since this problem concerns sections of society that most of us choose not to think about, then little action is taken to deal with this dangerous problem.