Last week Illinois passed a criminal justice reform bill that sets forth measures to ensure more humane, equitable and responsive conditions for women detained in state prisons. The signing of House Bill 1479 follows the passage of the Women’s Correctional Services Act late last year. Sponsored by State Representative Juliana Stratton, these two pieces of joint legislation establish a Women’s Division within the Illinois Department of Corrections and implement gender-responsive and trauma-informed programs to better address the particular challenges faced by women involved in the state prison system.
The Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) considers this policy to be an important step forward in restoring the rights of female inmates across the state. However, we recognize the urgent need for further legislative action in order to bring justice and equity to the thousands of Black women in Illinois who are targeted by the criminal justice system at disproportionately high rates.
Unjust policies that criminalize poverty and Blackness have led to the mass incarceration of women of color nationwide. The growth rate of the female prison population in the U.S. currently outpaces that of men, with a 700% increase since 1980. Black women, who comprise only 13% of the national female population, are incarcerated at more than two times the rate of white women. Despite this overrepresentation, the needs and interests particular to Black female inmates are routinely discounted by the criminal justice and prison systems.
In order to restore the rights of women of color held in Illinois prisons, WCRJ offers the following policy recommendations:
1. Improve services and programs for women in prison who are pregnant and/or parenting.
2. Protect women in prison from sexual assault and abuse.
3. Reduce excessive sentencing laws for crimes of poverty and survival which disproportionately target women of color.
4. Support women's successful re-entry through employment training and job creation for workers with conviction records.
5. Fund post-release housing services for re-entering individuals.
Further details on WCRJ's policy recommendations can be found here.
In the coming weeks and months, WCRJ will be advocating for reform measures that restore equity and justice to all Black inmates across Illinois. We will be organizing members, introducing legislation and working with lawmakers in an effort to counter the racism, corruption and abuse endemic to the criminal justice system.
More information on how you can get involved in WCRJ’s fight for prisoner rights and Black liberation can be found here.