Women make up 15%of Virginia’s jail and prison population, but the number of female inmates is rising rapidly. The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a report on why that’s happening and what should be done.
Kemba Smith is featured in a film produced by the ACLU to document why women end up behind bars. She says she was in love and had no idea how much that would cost her.
“I was in a relationship with a drug dealer who was abusive, " she recalls. "His criminal stuff was his business, I was doing school , but because of my relationship with him I got drawn in.”
She was sentenced to 24 years in prison though she had not even touched the drugs her boyfriend was dealing.
The number of women behind bars in Virginia rose 32% between 2010 and 2014. More than half of those in prison and 80% of those in jail are moms. Many are addicted to drugs and some live with abusive men.
Once convicted they find roadblocks to further education, employment and housing. Again, Kemba Smith:
“I moved out of my parents house and was trying to get an apartment," Smith says. "When I filled out the application and I shared with the woman that I had been convicted of a crime, she told me there was a 99% chance that my application would not be accepted.”
To address this situation the ACLU wants Governor Northam to set up a task force to study this growing problem and recommend changes. It notes, for example, that cash bonds imposed on poor women who can’t afford them could cause the loss of jobs, housing, even their kids while they sit in jail awaiting trial.