Men are arrested at higher rates than women, and men make up the majority of the prison population in the United States. But women make up an increasing number of drug arrests.
The data only tells one side of the story. We must understand the impact that drug arrests have on women’s lives from a civil rights perspective, not just a criminal one.
Women searched more frequently
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, searches during traffic stops decreased for men but did not decrease among women. If police stop a woman, she may not feel comfortable if a male officer conducts a search. If a woman requests a same-gender officer to conduct the search, the officer on the scene could construe this request as uncooperative behavior and the woman could face additional charges of resisting arrest.
Access to proper medical care
Some prison facilities in Illinois provide specialized care for pregnant and postpartum inmates. But many women imprisoned for drug violations do not receive proper prenatal care. Pregnant women facing arrest and/or incarceration should consult their attorney or a social worker if the prison denies access to adequate medical care during pregnancy.
In Illinois, anyone convicted of a felony drug charge is not eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance. Since women account for more than three-quarters of adult TANF recipients, it is clear that felony drug convictions may have a greater negative impact on women.
Women facing drug charges must be aware that their civil rights are not forfeited upon arrest or incarceration.