What is happening in Baltimore? Women going to jail

On October 7th, an event at the Charles Theater in Baltimore packed the theater. It was the viewing of the house we live in, a documentary by Eugene Jarecky. This documentary revisits the history of “the war on drugs” in correlation with the decline of American cities and today’s lucrative business of incarceration for non-violent crimes, showing how the poor and minority populations have become the majority population in jail and prisons of the United States.

It was not incidental that the movie was presented in Baltimore, a city that has been devastated by the “war on drugs”. In fact, the creator of The Wire, David Simon was there to introduce the film. But he did not come to praise it. Instead, he explicitly linked the devastation of Baltimore City, the impoverished inner city population and the policies of the war on drugs.  This great documentary shows that the hyper incarceration of African American men followed a plan to incapacitate the “wretched” of neo liberal globalization.

At the same time, the documentary does not show even one woman in jail. Although the number of women in jail represents about 10% of the overall incarcerated population, their incarceration has accelerated more than men’s, increasing six fold between 1980 and 2008. Again not just any woman goes to jail; the rate of incarceration of African American women in 2007 (150 per 100 000) exceeded the imprisonment rate of European countries’ men and women, minus Spain. This dramatic reality is often overlooked or avoided in documentaries and mainstream media.

Women are growing the ranks of people rendered vulnerable. This is especially true in Baltimore where 9 out of 10 in jail are awaiting trial. Only 7 % of the women incarcerated in Baltimore have been sentenced, destabilizing even more precarious lives. Despite the reduction of the number of violent crimes, about 77% of mostly African American women in the Baltimore Detention Center were arrested for non-violent crimes. The rhetoric of toughness applies efficiently to women these days. The invisible woman is in jail, sent by the invisible hand of the market that has been punishing women and especially African American women. Women’s existence is typically dematerialized, under the social and financial radar, and in Baltimore, sent to jail.

 

(Photo Credit: wypr.org)

 

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States.