In order to restore equity and justice to women of color impacted by the Illinois prison system, WCRJ offers the following policy recommendations:
Improve services and programs for women in prison who are pregnant and/or parenting. 80% of women entering Illinois prisons are parents of children and the vast majority of these mothers are primary caregivers.1 To meet the needs of these parents, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) must (1) establish a prenatal medical care and case management program, (2) expand the Mothers and Babies nursery program to accommodate all mothers
with babies and eliminate excessive participation restrictions, and (3) improve visitation, family case management and supportive service programs for incarcerated parents.
Protect women in prison from sexual assault and abuse. More than one in four female inmates in the U.S. report to have experienced sexual assault while in prison.2 In order to prevent and respond to sexual violence against incarcerated women, IDOC must (1) regularly provide independent trainings to inmates on their rights under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, (2) establish multiple and external channels for reporting violence, and (3) implement
a low threshold and expedited grievance procedure for inmates alleging sexual assault.
Reduce excessive sentencing laws for crimes of poverty and survival which disproportionately target women of color. Black women experience the highest rates of poverty in the nation and are particularly impacted by sentencing laws that exorbitantly criminalize impoverishment and means of survival.3 In Illinois, the overwhelming majority of Black female inmates are held for nonviolent offenses associated with poverty, such as the inability to pay
minor government fines and fees, petty theft and participation in non-traditional economies.4 WCRJ calls for laws that abolish government fines and court fees for people who cannot pay and policies that decriminalize or reduce sentencing of crime categories related to poverty. Taxpayer dollars saved through decarceration should be reinvested in programs that reverse the structural causes of poverty among Black women.
Support the successful re-entry of women through job training and employment opportunities. Both prior to incarceration and after release, Illinois women with conviction histories experience unemployment at disproportionately high rates.5 To address the economic needs of women returning from prison, WCRJ supports the expansion of IDOC employment training programs, as well as increased state funding of employment assistance and job creation
for re-entering workers.
Provide post-release housing services for re-entering women. Without adequate re-entry support, women returning from prison are at high risk of homelessness. Women with conviction histories represent 58% of the female homeless population in Chicago.6 Without a fixed residence, women are especially vulnerable to violence, sexual assault and abuse. WCRJ recommends the establishment of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Reentry Pilot as a
permanent and expanded program, as well as the funding of additional services that offer housing support to newly released individuals across Illinois.
1. Carson, B. (2007). Women in Prison. Springfield, IL. NPR Illinois.
2. Wolff, N. and Blitz. C. (2006). Sexual Violence Inside Prisons: Rates of Victimization. Online: Journal of Urban Health.
3. Tucker, J. and Lowell, C. (2015). National Snapshot: Poverty Among Women and Families. Washington, D.C.: National Women’s Law Center.
4. (2015). Illinois Prison Overview. Springfield, IL: Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.
5. Benedict, A. and Benos, D. (2016). Gender Informed Practice Assessment: Summary of Findings and Recommendations. Chicago, IL: The Women’s Justice Initiative.
6. (2014). 2014 Homeless Point-in-Time Count and Survey Report. Chicago, IL: City of Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.