There are now 200,000 women in prison or jail in the United States, a figure that represents an increase of over 750% in the last three decades, and nearly twice the rate of increase that men experienced. As is the case with men, incarceration rates for women also reflect tremendous racial disparities; one out of every 100 black women in the U.S. is now incarcerated, nearly three times the rate for women overall.
WPA clients are largely representative of the 4,000 + women in New York prisons and city jails: they are typically poor women of color who were arrested for drug-related or property crimes. Nearly 85% of women sent to New York prisons are there for non-violent offenses and few have any history of sustained legal employment. Despite these significant challenges most of the women with whom we work are remarkably strong and resilient women who work diligently to overcome obstacles to create better futures for themselves and their children.
In New York State, it costs $60,076 to imprison an individual for one year, an understatement of costs if a caretaker’s incarceration leads to foster care placement for her children. New York State spends a staggering $2.7 billion per year on corrections plus another $812.5 million in prison-related costs. Nationwide one out of every 15 state general fund dollars is now spent on corrections. Despite this significant investment of taxpayer dollars, programs inside of prisons rarely address the needs of inmates or prepare them to successfully reenter the community. The prison system was not developed to address the range of issues that lead people to its doors. Too often, incarceration contributes to recidivism rather than alleviates it. Nearly one third of the 2,000 women released from New York’s prisons each year return within three years. Moreover, incarceration is not only expensive in financial terms, it is tremendously destabilizing for the families and communities left behind.
 Key Element of Drug Law Reform Takes Effect as Older Offenders, General Population inmates Transfer into Shock Incarceration. Department of Correctional Services. August 6, 2009.
 The Price of Prisons, New York. Vera Institute of Justice. January 2012.
 Scott-Hayward, Christine. The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Rethinking Policies and Practices. The Vera Institute of Justice. New York, NY: July 2009.
 2004 Releases: Three Year Post Release Follow-Up. New York State Department of Correctional Services. New York, NY: 2009. http://www.docs.state.ny.us/Research/Reports/2009/2004_releases_3yr_out.pdf