Chairman Nadler Statement for the Subcommittee Hearing on “Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System”
Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered opening remarks during a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on “Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System.” Below are Chairman Nadler’s remarks, as prepared:
“I thank the Crime Subcommittee Chair, our colleague from California, Karen Bass, for holding this important hearing on the special issues related to women and girls in the criminal justice system.
“In recent years, there has been a growing consensus that our nation’s criminal justice system must be substantially reformed. One critical element of this national conversation that has been largely absent, however, is consideration of the unique experiences and needs of women and girls in the system, and our responsibility to develop creative ways to address these issues.
“It is particularly urgent that we do so because women are the fastest growing segment of our nation’s incarcerated population. While recent efforts at reforming the criminal justice system are at least partly responsible for slight reductions in the rate of incarceration overall, the proportion of incarcerated women is steadily rising. This disturbing trend must be examined. In addition, we should also consider whether the reforms already instituted across the country are appropriately designed to address the issues faced by women and girls in the criminal justice system.
“These issues are numerous and diverse, impacting all stages of the criminal justice system. One such injustice, for example, is the so-called ‘girlfriend problem,’ where a woman in a relationship is held responsible, through conspiracy charges, for the entirety of a criminal scheme orchestrated by her partner, often involving drug distribution, in which the woman had minimal involvement.
“In such cases, the woman may even receive a harsher sentence than her relationship partner because the more culpable partner is able to cut a deal for a shorter sentence based on divulging information to prosecutors. The less culpable partner often does not have much, if any, useful information, and thus lacks the leverage to obtain a more favorable plea agreement.
“Addressing this unfair situation is important because the ‘war on drugs’ appears to be a large driver of the incarceration rates of women, as illustrated by the fact that the proportion of women in prison for a drug offense has increased from 12% in 1986 to 25% in more recent years.
“Another problem is the impact of pretrial custody on women. Over 60% of women who are incarcerated have not even been convicted of a crime, and yet they are held in pretrial custody in jail. This is particularly disturbing because many of these women are the only providers for their children.
“A recent survey revealed that more than 150,000 children had a parent in jail because the parent could not afford bail—not because the parent presented a particular risk to the community or a risk of not appearing at trial. That means that children are impacted by pretrial detention in startling numbers—and this problem is most often caused by pre-trial incarceration of sole-provider mothers. Clearly, we must take steps to address this crisis of vastly over-used pretrial custody.
“We must also focus on the unique inequities that women face while incarcerated. As a result of Subcommittee Chair Bass’s leadership, Congress finally passed legislation implementing reforms at the federal level that ban shackling during pregnancy and require the provision of feminine hygiene products in federal prisons. These provisions were enacted last year in the First Step Act with bipartisan support, including the efforts of our current Ranking Member of the Committee, Doug Collins.
“But much more must be done to improve the conditions for women in federal and state prisons and jails, and I hope this will also be a bipartisan priority.
“As this Committee develops plans to further reform our criminal justice system, it is clear that our efforts must be informed by the unique issues faced by women in that system.
“I appreciate the Chair for holding this important hearing, which will assist us in this process. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, and I yield back the balance of my time.”