In 2003, the number of women incarcerated in the Nation’s prisons and local jails continued to increase, reaching 181,752 at midyear. While the number of women incarcerated in prisons and jails is significantly lower than men (181,752 women compared to 1,963,599 men), the number of incarcerated women has grown at a much faster rate than that of men. Since 1995, the average annual increase in women in prisons and jails was 5.2 percent, compared to a 3.4 percent annual increase in the number of incarcerated men. Since 1990, the number of incarcerated women has more than doubled, increasing by 118 percent.1

Racial and ethnic differences continue to exist among incarcerated women. In 2003, the highest rate of incarceration was among non-Hispanic Black women (aged 18 and older) who had an incarceration rate of 352 per 100,000 women. Non-Hispanic Black women were nearly 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic women (with a rate of 148 per 100,000 women) and over 4.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic White women (with a rate of 75 per 100,000) to be incarcerated in 2003. These differences remain in all age groups of adult women, with the highest rates found among non-Hispanic Black women aged 35-39 years (926 per 100,000 women).2

In 2002, the most common reason for arrest among women was “other offenses” (25.2 percent of arrests); these included all offenses except traffic violations that did not fall under one of the 28 main categories of offenses charged. The most common specific offenses among women included larceny/theft (13.8 percent of arrests), assault other than aggravated assault (9.7 percent), drug abuse violations (8.8 percent), driving under the influence (7.9 percent), disorderly conduct (5.2 percent), and violation of liquor laws (5.1 percent). Among female jail inmates, the most serious current offenses included drug possession (14.5 percent), fraud (14.0 percent), drug trafficking (10.9 percent), larceny/ theft (10.3 percent), and assault (8.0 percent). Female jail inmates were less likely than men to be perpetrators of violent crimes. The offense of murder/nonnegligent manslaughter accounted for 1.4 percent of the most serious offenses among female jail inmates and 2.1 percent among male inmates. Rape was the most serious crime of 0.7 percent of male inmates, but it was listed as “not applicable” for female inmates. Other sexual assault was the most serious offense for 3.1 percent of males and only 0.9 percent of females.

Graph: Female Federal and State Prisoners and Local Jail Inmates[d]

Graph: Most Serious Current Offense of Jail Inmates by Sex[d]

1 Harrison PM and Karberg, JC. Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2003. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, May 2004.

2 Ibid.