At the end of 2020, about 1,400 women were in the Illinois prison system, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
One group is aiming to cut that number in half.
Detailed in the report, “Redefining the Narrative,” a task force of hundreds of experts, researchers and incarcerated women put together a list of recommendations to not only cut the population, but to better support women while in and out of prison.
“Women may be the smallest justice-involved population, but they have been the fastest growing for decades in Illinois and across our country,” said Deanne Benos, co-founder of the Women’s Justice Institute and a lead writer of the report. “Prisons are male-dominated, antiquated systems that replicate harms women experience in the community like gender-based violence, trauma, poverty and other forms of abuse.”
The report outlines three goals: cut the women’s prison population by at least 50%, to reduce the harm being caused by current policies and practices, and to improve health, wellbeing, and outcomes among women, their children, families and communities.
It also is intended to redefine the narrative of women in prison.
For Colette Payne, the director of the Reclamation Project at the Women’s Justice Institute that looks like not only changing the narrative that’s often projected onto incarcerated women but providing needed services like mental health care to offer better support.
“I hear women say things like, prison has saved my life, but what if we had everything that we needed in our community so we wouldn’t have possibly gone to prison or jail,” Payne said.