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Women: The new face of inmates

In large part due to changes in marijuana laws, there's been a slight dip in the number of prisoners serving time or awaiting trial in American jails. But this country still incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation -- and many of them are female.

Advocates for prison reform say that the "for-profit" prison industry essentially created a market for inmates -- which has encouraged more incarcerations than ever before, especially among women. While the odds have lessened that women of color will receive harsher treatment than white women, the reality is that more women of all races are being imprisoned.

Many of the women sitting inside city and county jails right now haven't even been convicted of a crime. According to the most recent report from the Prison Policy Initiative, 61% of women in local jails have not been to trial.

Advocates for reform say that one of the principal reasons that women sit behind bars waiting for a trial whether they're innocent or not is simply that the cash bail system favors men. Women, especially those who are the primary caregivers of young children, have less access to the kind of cash it takes to retain a bail bondsman's services.

Unlike those in prison, jail inmates typically have less access to things that can help them cope. Phone calls may be sharply limited or very expensive (up to $1.50 per minute) and email may be restricted. Plus, there are few self-improvement programs.

Women aren't catching a break when they get probation either. Many end up back in jail because the probation comes with fees that they can't afford to pay or childcare and transportation issues make it difficult for them to comply with mandatory meetings.

Advocates also point out that there isn't even a complete picture available of what's happening to women inside the criminal systems. There's no mandatory reporting system throughout the United States where prisoners are concerned.

If you're a woman who is facing drug-related criminal charges or have been charged with another type of crime, it's important to find an attorney who can understand the unique challenges you may face. Explore your legal options carefully -- because you can't expect the justice system to offer you a break without a strong advocate by your side.

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