We’ve all heard of our country’s attempt to eradicate drug use, abuse, and addiction by waging a war on drugs. Unfortunately, punitive laws and policies that imprison people and force them to suffer life-long consequences such as loss of access to education, employment, and even enfranchisement aren’t working. In 2005, the National Organization for Women acknowledged the Drug War was a failed public policy and called on the organization to oppose the Drug War and in its stead support an approach to drug abuse and addiction that fosters health, human rights, and compassion. Additionally, NOW formed a committee to embark on an effort to educate women about the impact the Drug War has on them in particular, as well as create campaigns and actions that both the chapters and National Action Center can participate in.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand why drug laws and policies are concerns of women across the country. Considering these facts and figures should offer a sense of why this is a matter women ought to teach themselves about and prepare themselves to take action, especially as the Drug War more and more is a war on women and other under-represented and –served communities.
The incarceration rate of women convicted on low-level drug crimes has increased in the past decade dramatically as a result of our country’s relentless Drug War, and communities of color are targeted disproportionately. They tend to receive lengthy mandatory minimum sentences that have little relationship to their actions or culpability.
Two thirds of women in prison have at least one child displaced as a result of their incarceration. The children often live in the care of family, friends, or state-sponsored foster care where there tends to be increased risk of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
Women’s unique patterns of drug abuse and addiction, including special drug education, counseling, and treatment needs, are addressed inadequately, as women often turn to drugs to cope with undetected or untreated illness, including the trauma of mental, physical, or sexual abuse or other stresses particular to women.
Additionally, circumstances specific to women’s involvement in activities related to drug use and sales are often overlooked or ignored in sentencing. Such situations include women whose partners are emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive and involved in drug use or sales. Women in such situations are unlikely to turn to the authorities, and accordingly are often also punished when their partners are arrested and incarcerated.
Even after incarceration, women continue to bear the stigma and burden of post-prison sanctions that constitute collateral consequences of incarceration impeding their reintegration into society, including denial of access to a variety of rights and freedoms, effectively rendering them second-class citizens.
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