The number of women in jail is reportedly skyrocketing — and no one knows why

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Report: The Number of Women in Jail Has Increased 14-Fold



Amid a fierce national debate on mass incarceration in the US, a new report has found that one population has been severely overlooked: women.

The number of women held in local US jails has skyrocketed over the last four decades, jumping 14 times what it was in the 1970s, according to a report jointly released Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent research nonprofit that "tackles the most pressing injustices of our day", and the MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge, which is aimed at improving local justice systems.

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Women now make up nearly 110,000 of the 745,000 people in the country's jails, the report found.

Beyond the "alarming" rate increase, the report concludes that the criminal justice system is sorely lacking in research and data on why more and more women are being locked up.

"With little data and scant examination of just who the women in jail are and how they got there, it is not surprising that recent innovations to craft smarter, more targeted use of jails do not account for the realities of women's lives," Fred Patrick, a director at the Vera Institute of Justice, said in the report.

What little is known about these female inmates is that the majority are charged with low-level, non-violent offenses, and typically have less extensive criminal histories than male inmates.

Furthermore, nearly 80% of women in jail are mothers, many of whom bear sole responsibility for their children, according to the report.

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The report found that several factors affect women's incarceration to a greater extent than men, including trauma, physical and behavioral health disorders, single-parenting, and poverty.

Local jurisdictions have let jails become "stopgap providers" of social and community services for women, who were unable to reach resources they needed outside of the criminal justice system, the report said.

Already, the report's numbers are being treated with some caution by some criminal justice experts, who say the report could even be an underestimation of the full impact on women in jails.

Life in prison: A look at becoming an inmate

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NTP: Life in prison: A look at becoming an inmate
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NTP: Life in prison: A look at becoming an inmate
Prisoners stand while being processed for intake at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. They arrive by the busload each Tuesday and Thursday, dozens of new inmates entering Georgiaâs prison system. Most stay only a week or two. But for those sentenced to die, this is their last stop. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Frederick Harris, right, cuts the hair of Josh Harris, no relation, as he is processed for intake at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. When inmates arrive, their possessions are inventoried. Then they shower and don white jumpsuits. They sit in barber chairs while permanent inmates give them close haircuts, then pose for an ID photo. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A motivational poster hangs on the wall as prisoners stand at attention while being processed for intake at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. The prison, the stateâs biggest, houses about 2,100 male inmates on a wooded, 900-acre campus about 50 miles south of Atlanta. A warden and three deputy wardens oversee more than 600 employees. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Prisoner Ricky Wheat looks out from his cell at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. Inside the prison itâs loud and busy. Heavy metal gates clank open and shut. Inmates shuffle in single-file lines, guided by just a few guards. Chatter, shouts and the crackling of radios echo with nothing soft in sight to absorb the sound. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A prisoner faces a mural painted by inmates on a cinderblock wall inside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. When visitors approach, inmates in the hallways turn their backs and stand close to the walls. That makes it easy for guards to spot a guy who steps out of line. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Capt. Dwain Williams checks on a prisoner in the the Special Management Unit, known as high-max at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. Face-to-face interaction is rare. The cells are only 7 by 13½ feet, and inmates canât see out unless guards slide back a metal cover over the grated opening on the door. Meals slide through an opening like a mail slot. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An inmate looks out of his cell in the the Special Management Unit, known as high-max at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. A select few have glass instead of sliding metal doors as windows because theyâre known to hurt themselves and need extra supervision. Theyâre on the same row as others whose cells are behind a glass partition because they have a history of throwing things, including bodily fluids, from their cells. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An inmate takes a GED exam at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. While many in high-max wonât ever be free, some will eventually get out. The GED program aims to help a relatively small number of inmates who will eventually get out be better prepared for release. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Sgt. Michael Stovall looks through a set of security gates on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. The inmates on death row have been convicted of horrific crimes, but they generally cause few problems according to prison Warden Bruce Chatman. Possibly because many still have appeals pending and donât want to risk jeopardizing a chance, however slim, that their lives could be spared, he said. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Personal items sit on shelves of a prisoner's cell on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. The 76 death row inmates live in four âpodsâ of neatly kept single-inmate cells measuring just 6½ by 9 feet and feature a bed, sink, toilet and shelves. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Shoes sit under a prisoner's bed in his cell on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. Georgia has executed inmates by injection since October 2001, when the state Supreme Court ruled electrocution violated the stateâs ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A prisoner on death row stands in his cell at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. An electric chair that was used in 23 executions, a primitive-looking wooden armchair outfitted with leather straps, now sits unused in a closet off the area where witnesses sit for executions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A cell sits empty on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. Once a judge signs an execution order, the warden meets with the inmate to read him the order, give him a copy and ask if he has any questions. The inmate doesnât return to death row but instead is held in the prisonâs medical area under 24-hour watch by two guards for the roughly two weeks until his execution date. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A calendar hangs inside a prisoner's cell on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. On the day of the execution, the condemned inmate can receive visitors until about 3 p.m., when heâs given a medical checkup and then brought to a holding cell near the execution chamber around 5 p.m. Heâs given his final meal and has an opportunity to record a final statement. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Sgt. Andrew Archie walks through death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. The 76 death row inmates live in four âpodsâ of neatly kept single-inmate cells measuring just 6½ by 9 feet and feature a bed, sink, toilet and shelves. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Prison Warden Bruce Chatman talks with prisoners on death row as they walk in a yard at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. On the unusually warm early December morning, six men were in the yard that includes basketball and volleyball nets. Several took the opportunity to bend the wardenâs ear, asking about a backed-up toilet and people allowed to visit. Another asked: âHey, warden. Can you help us get a basketball? Itâs been over two months.â (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Correctional officers are reflected in a puddle as they stand guard outside a yard for death row inmates at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. Inmates are allowed into the common area or into the outside yard in small groups of men who are known to get along. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Deputy Warden of Security Keith Eutsey, left, and Warden Bruce Chatman walk to the execution chamber along rows of barbed wire at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Jackson, Ga. Death row inmates donât have far to go when their appeals run out. The chamber where lethal injections take place, a small room with a gurney, separated by a large pane of glass from the observation area, is on the grounds. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham Law School, noted on Twitter that while the country's jail population may be 745,000, that number is totaled just once a year, and so doesn't show the the 11 million jail admissions that occur throughout the course of each year.

Pfaff also noted that that while the rate of women's incarcerations between 1970 and 2014 may have quadrupled, men still account for nearly 83% of the overall increase in jail populations.

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