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3 min read

How the Criminal Justice System is Failing Women

You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls" -Barack Obama

Over the last four decades, there has been a rapid increase of incarcerated women in the United States. Since 1970, the number of incarcerated women skyrocketed from 8,000 to almost 110,000 by 2016.[1] On March 18, 2019, CNN reported that as of 2018, the number of women incarcerated either in local jails, state prisons, federal prison, and by the U.S. Marshals has reached an alarming 205,000.[2]       

Sadly those women are overwhelmingly indigent, minorities, and mothers. And the more we breakdown the statistics, the more alarming this epidemic becomes.

  • 80% of women in jail are mothers[3].

  • Of that eighty percent of mothers incarcerated in the US, their offenses are:

  • 86% of all incarcerated women have suffered from sexual violence;[7]

  • 77% of all incarcerated women have suffered domestic violence[8]; and

  • 60% of all incarcerated women have suffered from abuse by a caregiver[9].

Inadequate Medical Care

Across the nation, there has been news story after news story as well as a plethora of social media movements highlighting how prisons and jails are not only slow to meet the medical needs of women in custody, but outright fail to provide safe, sanitary, and decent medical care. Colorado has just now began making headway on the basic need of free menstrual hygiene products for women in custody through HB19-1224[10]; however, hundreds of women across the nation are still enduring the humiliation and the stress of experiencing their menstrual cycle each month without tampons. This is just one example of how the criminal justice system has failed to meet the needs of a growing number of women in custody.

Women's issues are finally getting attention

Many activists, attorneys, and journalists have taken issue with a separate heart wrenching reality that not only do women in custody suffer while incarcerated, but so do their children. There are roughly 2.7 million children living with a parent behind bars, and most of these children are from a low-income family and black or Hispanic[11]. The trauma that comes from a life behind bars is now spreading to the youngest and most innocent members of our society. Many children of incarcerated mothers enter into foster care or are unable to travel the long distances to visit their moms in jail or prison[12], and those that have the chance, may suffer lasting emotional trauma from witnessing their mother in confinement.

 And while none of this takes away the fact that 93% of the prison population is male, we have to stop and recognize that the number of women in custody in the U.S. has increased by 800%. This is unacceptable. It’s alarming. These are staggering facts and figures coming at you with a bullhorn saying that women are suffering from limited access to justice. In their March 18th article, CNN highlights Still She Rises, the first public defender office in the nation dedicated exclusively to the representation of mothers in the criminal justice system.[13]

She Rises

Still, She Rises team is made up of just 24 investigators and attorneys tackling an overwhelming need. With greater access to justice through organizations like Still She Rises, women won’t be more likely to sit in custody while awaiting trial. With a more holistic approach, these women and their families will have the social support they need to survive and thrive after a life tainted by the stain left from this country's criminal justice system. With a true advocate, these women stand a chance to be heard.

One of Still She Rises team members and Criminal Defense Practice Supervisor, Kaushiki Chowdhury, is a former Senior Deputy State Public Defender for the State of Colorado. Like many attorneys with Still She Rises, Kaushiki made the sacrifice to leave her practice here in Colorado to stand up for the many women suffering in Oklahoma’s prisons. The rate of women incarcerated in Oklahoma is staggering, growing twice the national rate[14]. Without organizations like Still She Rises, the rate of incarcerated women in the U.S. will continue to accelerate and generations to come will fill the sting of families dismantled by an unforgiving criminal justice system.

It is absolutely necessary that we, as a legal community, seek to increase the access to justice to the underserved and underrepresented. If you are faced with allegations that can ultimately result in incarceration do not hesitate to contact our firm at 303-534-1958 or email me at

[1] "Overlooked: Women in Jails in an Era of Reform" from the Vera Institute of Justice, 2016.

[2] Mothers Behind Bars. March 18, 2019.

[3] "Overlooked: Women in Jails in an Era of Reform" from the Vera Institute of Justice, 2016.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] HB19-1224: Free Menstrual Hygeine Products In Custody.

[11] Mothers Behind Bars. March 18, 2019.

[12] Uphololding the Dignity of Incarerated Women. Dec. 22, 2017.


[14] Id.