Even when they have minimal or no involvement in the drug trade, women are increasingly caught in the ever-widening net cast by current drug laws through provisions such as conspiracy, accomplice liability, and constructive possession, which expand criminal liability to reach partners, relatives, and bystanders. Sentencing laws fail to consider the many reasons – including domestic violence, economic dependence, or dependent immigration status – that may compel women to remain silent or not report a partner or family member’s drug activity to authorities. Moreover, existing sentencing policies, particularly mandatory minimum sentencing laws, often subject women to equal or harsher sentences than those imposed upon the principals in the drug trade, who are ostensibly the target of those policies.
Women’s incarceration for drug offenses fails not only to address the issues that likely contributed to their involvement with drugs, it often exacerbates them.
- Sexual and physical violence against women at the hands of correctional officers is widespread in United States prisons. The abuse women experience behind prison walls has devastating consequences, particularly for those who are survivors of violence, suffer from depression, or are working to overcome addiction.
- Incarcerated women’s physical and mental health is routinely put at risk by ill-conceived security policies, as well as delays in providing emergency and routine healthcare.
- Incarcerated mothers face emotional trauma due to separation from their children and frequently suffer from depression, loneliness, and despair. Infliction of such trauma on women with substance abuse problems is particularly problematic because these conditions often trigger the urge to use drugs