Texas now incarcerates more women by sheer number than any other state in the country, according to a new report.
A report by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition examines how while the numbers of women in prison have skyrocketed, the system itself struggles to provide for women’s unique needs.
The group estimates that 81 percent of women in Texas prisons are mothers.
Yet more than half the women behind bars in the United States are held in local jails, not state or federal prisons. So over the past year, The Dallas Morning News examined issues with the growing female jail population in a series of investigations.
The News found a 48 percent increase in the numbers of women jailed in Texas. Here are five stories that explain some of the problems behind that increase.
1. Alicia Skeats couldn’t pay her cab fare home from a methadone treatment clinic, so she went to jail. She died there.
Skeats died of drug withdrawal, after she wasn’t given methadone she was taking to treat heroin addiction. An investigation by The News found Skeats’ previously unreported death and several other concerning deaths of women in Texas county jails.
Some weren’t properly labeled in state databases, and overall, the deaths illustrated how Texas jails are struggling to care for a growing population of women arrested with untreated addictions and mental illness.
An investigation by The News found that no one in the criminal justice system is responsible for the safety of children whose mothers go to jail, not in north Texas or in most communities in the U.S.
Learn what life was like for the Booker sisters, who had to tough it out on their own during their mother’s stints in jail and prison.
3. Women are filling up this central Texas county jail, along with other lockups across Texas. But arrests have dropped. What’s going on?
One jail in Burnet County illustrates the complications that come with a sudden surge in locked-up women: Contraband mascara, tampon shortages, women unable to see their children for months.
Burnet County officials were also able to capitalize on other counties’ struggles, by housing women for neighboring communities who’d run out of space.
Angela Jessie’s crime? Shoplifting two school uniforms for her grandchildren. She could not afford the $150,000 bond set by a Dallas County magistrate, and sat in jail for weeks before she was appointed a public defender.
County magistrates set bond on a cash schedule that increases if you have prior convictions — it does not consider a defendant’s ability to pay.
A group of people who were locked up in Dallas County Jail (including several women) have sued county officials over the cash bail system, alleging it unfairly detains those too poor to get out before trial.
County officials had been fearing a lawsuit similar to an ongoing one in Houston, but had failed to adopt an alternative to cash bail before the suit was filed by several nonprofits on behalf of the inmates.