tv House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Women in the Criminal Justice... CSPAN September 6, 2019 8:03am-8:30am EDT
this was, this door is really great way to get into that. >> university of washington history professor margaret o'mara discusses her book "the code" sunday night at eight eastern on c-span's q&a. >> i house judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on women in the criminal justice system. i heard from representatives from the american civil liberties union and the prison policy initiative as well as the author of "orange is the new black." this is two and a half hours. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations]
>> the committee on crime terrorism and homeland security will come to order. without objection the chair is authorized to declare recesses of the subcommittee at any time. i welcome everyone to today's hearing on women and girls in the criminal justice system, and i now recognize myself for an opening statement. i am very pleased that the subcommittee is holding this hearing today. after decades of policies that led to mass incarceration, we are finally added point of examining the policies and the consequences. what has been missing from the discussion of criminal justice reform is the special and specific impact that tough on crime and has had on women and children. today's hearing begins a a discussion about women in the criminal justice system. it is critical we understand how and why women become involved in the system, what happens to them when they're incarcerated, and
what their trajectory is once released. we need to examine the impact of the war on drug-related policies that specifically targeted women in hopes of capturing men. what happens to families and especially children when women are incarcerated. we need to examine the special needs women have when they're incarcerated, what's different, what are their needs, what happens to the children while they're in a system system and when they're released? for example, federal law can lead to termination of parental rights if the child of an incarcerated women remains in foster care unit 18 18 months. some states have even shorten the timeline to six or 12 months. one received a sentence of five years why should she faced losing her children for ever to adoption? examining pregnancy while incarcerated is the most obvious difference. specifically, prisons and jails are not designed or equipped to do with the issues of pregnant women in custody. i'd like to recognize now charlotte cook.
raise your hand, please. while in prison, she complain that she was pregnant. the medical staff at the prison insisted it was just because she was fat and stressed out. after much persistence, a blood test ruled that she was, in fact, pregnant. although six weeks into her pregnancy without prenatal care. she had complications and her son was born a premium at four and a half pounds. 18 months later he was diagnosed with severe autism. but the health needs of women regardless of pregnancy is different, and all women should have access to appropriate medical care. that includes access to gynecological care and not just during the childbearing years. so what is to be done? through this hearing we will learn the common reasons why women into the criminal justice system. this testimony must inform our next steps on sentencing reform. the testimony will help us determine whether it is time to
revisit our overly broad drug conspiracy laws which tend to lead low-level offenders commonly women, laden with responsibility for actions they did not commit or sometimes didn't even know about. we must also consider methods of reviewing extremely long sentences as the number of women serving life sentence is on the rise. one out of every 15 women in prison, nearly 7000, is serving a life or virtual life sentence. while 80% are mothers, these light sentences do not will effect the first incarcerated, they affect the children who lose a parent. thus, the conversation incarcerated women must include a conversation about their children. the urban institute research shows staying in touch promotes positive outcomes for both the children and their parents which often reduces recidivism. communities must also be a part of the conversation. teachers and staff should prioritize knowledge and
sensitivity about issues children of incarcerated parents face. schools should spirit efforts to meet the needs of children with incarcerated loved ones and offer resources or clubs targeted toward students have been affected by incarceration, including support groups, counseling, extra curricular activities, providing to process experiences, arts internally. perhaps if we do this we can reduce the statistic that 50% of children who have a parent incarcerated windup incarcerated with later in life. connection should be made with community programs and local service providers that serve families affected by incarceration for additional support. and finally we cannot ignore the conditions of women in prison and the difficulties of their reentry back into communities after release. i hope to explore how we can approve conditions of women incarcerated to ensure the most basic needs are met, including the needs incarcerated pregnant women. any facility that incarcerates
women must be held a minimal standards of care. today, women will no longer be overlooked in the criminal justice conversation. we must have an overall approach to criminal justice reform that specifically considers women. i look forward to bring the testimony of our panel of witnesses and the opportunity to discuss these the issues. i now recognize the ranking member. >> thank you chairwoman bass, thanks to each of our witnesses for being here today to discuss the impact of the criminal justice system on the women and girls. to do that it's crucial we take a step back to first understand the importance of the criminal justice system in the first place. law enforcement officers, many women all races and all backgrounds put their lives on the line every day all around this country in order to protect our communities. they make these extraordinary sacrifices to ensure that children are safe from exploitation by sex offenders. they do that to keep women and
girls safe from domestic abusers. they make the sacrifices to defend the weak and the vulnerable among us. and importantly they also due to uphold the rule of law. we should all agree on these fundamental principles. as members of congress our goal is to ensure that lady justice is blind, and that buys has no place in our criminal justice system because my good friend the former chair of the subcommittee trey gowdy once said, we should strive for criminal justice system that is not just respected by the american people, but is worthy of their respect. as a former prosecutor my role was to be as zealous advocate for the truth, and during that time i encountered crimes committed that were shocking to my conscious and sickening to my soul. in those cases, enhanced
sentences and mandatory minimums were fair and they were just here crimes committed against children, the most innocent and the most vulnerable members of our society, should stick with us. they should haunt us. and then they should spur us to take action. much of the debate here in congress has been about criminal justice reforms and the impact of mandatory minimums and how to reduce recidivism. we should be vigilant in determining the causes of increasing female incarceration rate in this country. we should be open to addressing in a bipartisan fashion the unique needs of women and girls in our criminal justice system. as congress has debated criminal justice reform, many states have acted as laboratories of democracy, creating innovative ways to handle the unique challenges and providing
congress with a view of what works and what doesn't work. we can't can and we should leam that. and let us not forget that even some so-called nonviolent offenses, they are victims too numerous to mention and, unfortunately, too easy for us to ignore. drug traffickers that profit off the importation of deadly and illicit drugs like heroin, methamphetamines and signal in our communities leave a trail of destruction in their wake. the race origin of drug traffickers does not matter. what matters is that their victims come from all backgrounds and from all walks of life. i yield back. >> its nama pleasure to recognize the chairman of the full judiciary committee, the gentleman from new york, mr. nadler. >> i think the crime subcommittee chair and collect from california karen bass for holding this important hearing on this special issues related to women and girls in the
criminal justice system. in recent years there's been a growing consensus that our nations google justice system must be substantially reform. one critical element of the special conversation that is been largely absent its consideration of the unique experiences and needs of women and girls in the system, , and that responsibility to develop creative ways to address those issues. it is particularly urgent we do so because women are the fastest going segment of our nations incarcerated population. our recent efforts of reform the criminal justice system are at least partly responsible for slight reductions in the rate of incarceration overall, but for women it is steadily rising. this disturbing trend must be examined. we should also consider whether the reforms are already institute across the country are appropriate 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 is the so-called girlfriend problem,, where women in a relationship is held responsible for conspiracy charges for the entirety of a criminal scheme orchestrated and her partner, often involving drug distribution which the woman had minimal involvement. in such cases the women may even receive a harsher sentence because the more culpable partners able to cut a deal for a shorter since based on relevant information to prosecutors. the less culpable party to set up much or any information to divulge because she doesn't know any. and thus lacks the limits obtain a more favorable plea agreement. addressing this unfair situation is support because the war on drugs appears to be a a large private of the incarcerated rates of women. as the listed by the fact the proportion of women in prison for 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 are incarcerated have not even been convicted of a crime, and get their 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 more than 150,000 children had a parent in jail because it could not afford bail. not because the parent present at a particular risk to the community or risk of not appearing at trial. that means children are infected by pretrial detention and startling numbers. this problem is most caused by pretrial incarceration, the sole provider mothers. clearly we must take steps to address this crisis vastly overused pretrial custody. we must focus on unique inequities that women face while incarcerated. the result of the leadership here congress finally passed
legislation implementing reforms at the federal level. these provisions were enacted last year in a first step act, bipartisan support, including the efforts her current ranking member takano the doug collins. much more must be done to for the conditions for women in federal and state prisons and jails and hope this will also be a bipartisan priority. as this committee develops plans to for the reform our criminal justice system, it is clear our efforts must be informed of unique issues faced by women in the system to appreciate the chair for holding this important hearing which will assist the process. i look forward to reading from her witnesses and i yield the balance of my time. >> it's not pledge introduce today's panel. ms. jesselyn mccurdy is deputy director of the washington legislative office of the american civil liberties union. what she represents the aclu before congress and the
executive branch could she covers various criminal justice issues including federal sentencing, prison reform, drug policy and capital punishment. she previously served as lead counsel the subcommittee on historic fair sensing act of 2010 which lowered the 100 to one disparity between crack and powder cocaine. this cynthia schenk is a mother of three beautiful children turn advocate for criminal justice reform policy for time in prison. her 15 year sentence under drug conspiracy laws was commuted by president obama after she served eight years in prison. ms. schenk was featured in hbo documentary "the sentence" here ms. piper kerman, author of "orange is the new black" which is about the 13 months by bruce ohr at the federal correction institution in danbury, connecticut. she is an advocate who teaches writing classes at two state prisons in ohio as an affiliate instructor with oberman
university. ms. aleks kajstura is the legal director for prison policy, for the prison policy initiative and is played a central role in building is in policy initiative campaign against prison gerrymandering and let the organizations work on its second major issue, sensing enhancement zones. ms. patrice onwuka, a senior policy analyst at independent women's forum. we welcome our witnesses and thanked them for participating in today's hearing. please note a written statement will entered into the record in its entirety. accordingly, i ask you summarize your testimony in five minutes. to help you stay within that time, there is a timing light on your table. when the light switches from green to yellow you will have one minute to conclude her your testimony. when the light turns red it signals to five minutes has expired. before proceeding with testimony i hereby remind each witness that all of your written and oral statements made to the subcommittee in connection with
the searing are subject to penalties of perjury. ms. mccurdy. >> thank you chairwoman bass. the american civil liberties union and like to thank you and the ranking member ratcliffe for the opportunity to testify at today's hearing on women and girls in the criminal justice system. prison is a women's issue. often the sobering statistics on this countries prison population and the narrative surrounding mass incarceration is the degree to which women are ensnared in the criminal justice. over the past 30 years the number of incarcerated women has grown exponentially. again, women are the fastest going segment of the prison population, increasing by 700% in 1980-2017. a rate twice that of men. today, more than 200,000 women are incarcerated and jails and prisons across this country.
the majority of women in prison are incarcerated for low-level offense. most often property and drug-related crime, even as the rate of incarceration of women has risen dramatically in recent years, the percentage of women sentenced for crimes involving violence has fallen. much of the growth in the women's prison population of the past 30 years can be attributed to the war on drugs. from 1988 1988-1999, the numbef women in state facilities for drug offenses grew by 888%. drunken property offenses are often fueled by conditions of poverty, addiction and untreated mental health issues. which is expressed by many women cycling through the criminal justice system. in addition to poverty what often lends women in prison is the history of physical and sexual abuse, high rates of hiv, and substance abuse problems. when they participate in more serious crimes including sears drugs crimes and robbery, women
are minor accomplices. when women commit homicide they often do so in order to protect themselves from men who have abuse them. women of color are disproportionately represented in the population of incarcerated women. in 2014, black women women were more than twice and latina women were 20% more likely than white women to be incarcerated. although the racial disparities among concert women has narrowed over the past 15 years, the legacy of the disparity remains. girls are more likely than boys to be in the juvenile facilities due to low low-level status ofs or technical violations and are far less likely to be detained for violent offenses. women make up proximate 7% of the federal prison population, almost 13,000 women compared to 1980 when there were 13,000 women in both state and federal prisons combined.
more than 70% of the women sentenced in 2017 in the federal system were convicted of drug trafficking, fraud, or immigration offenses. in the same year, 68% of female sentenced had little or no prior criminal history. furthermore, women frequently end up in federal prison due to federal drug conspiracy laws. too often federal drug conspiracy laws disproportionately punish those who unwittingly and unknowingly find themselves caught in the net for drug-related activity. even in a peripheral role. women are -- women who are minimally involved in drug dealing but left with partnersr family members involved in the drug trade can be required to serve long senses as a result of conspiracy. some of these relationships are abusive or coercive and leave women foldable and with few options. women of color often find themselves subjected to prosecution based on the relationship and dissociation rather than their own personal
contact. adding to the burden of women behind bars is the majority of women in prison are mothers. since 1991 the number of children with a mother in prison has grown 131%. the majority%. the majority of these women are both custodial parents and primary financial providers. further, mothers behind bars are five times more likely than men to report that the children are in foster care or cared for by the state. the very existence of parental relationships can be endangered when a parent is incarcerated incarcerated parents who have not been, with not abuse or neglect of the children are likely to use a cut loose the public rights primly than a non-incarcerated parent who has assaulted their children. women are the fastest-growing incarcerated population in the u.s., leaving far too many children and families without a mother, despite the fact is often their primary caregiver. until we recognize the unique circumstances, needs, and
consequences associate with women who come in contact with the cream of the local system we will never truly addressed this nation's mass incarceration pub. thank you. >> thank you. ms. schenk. >> thank you for allowing me to come in today and share my story. my name is cynthia schenk, and in 2008 in 2008 i was convicted on track conspiracy charges from a crime that happened when i was 24. i'm not -- i met him and when i was 241997 and he in the course of our relationship over five years he grew into a drug dealer and he became a very large drug use during my relationship with a very abusive to me. kept keeping me from my family, keeping me from my friends, to the extent there were locks on all the doors, double-sided locks and bars and all the windows. the last you i was with him i wasn't allowed to leave the house at all. over the course of him being such a large drug dealer is
paranoid and control took over to the point where i had no control over anything that i could even do. he was murdered in 2002, and i was initially charged with conspiracy to his drug operation. the charges were actually dropped and actually moved on with my life. i gave my life to the lord. i started focusing on myself and bettering myself and met a a wonderful man. we got married, had to make beautiful daughters and i was pregnant with my third daughter when i was indicted five and half years later on all those crimes that were committed five, six years prior. i've been went away to prison in 2008 when my daughter was just six weeks old. autumn was four and abel was two years old. needless to say that prison destroyed my small young family. prison is setup to separate and
destroy bonds that are there. as of monday you need to be there for your children. i was initially sent to element which is getting regular visits and is able to see the girls about every six to eight weeks. the prison close for women and was transferred to a man's arm capsized sent to florida. so now i saw my daughters once a year and they were still so young. during my time in florida my husband filed for divorce, , whh i completely understood, because he was serving a sentence, to come with me and i want him to have a chance and a life. sorry. i spent eight years, eight and half years in federal prison before is given clemency by president obama. during my time in federal prison i met many women who were just like me, , who were serving long senses for crimes related to the thin husbands or boyfriends they had little knowledge of. i had to witness and hear the
cries of mothers at night which is kind of a custody of the children because they no longer could be there for them, and they were taken away from them. to hear mothers cry at night over and over again i'm a different mothers every night for something that come to have your child taken away from you for ever and signed away is something i will never forget. or coming back from a visit and having a mother cry in my arms because her daughter said mom, the person i'm staying with has been touching me. this is the reality that when mothers leave, their children are put in places where they are not 100% protected. nobody's going to care for your child as a mother does. so when a mothers taken away, it's the children who suffer. when i went away, i was able to put my daughters in play therapy. autumn started play therapy when she was four years old and she continued to be in therapy now.
i do not know what the cost of these incarceration is going to mean for my children, but i do know that we won't see the ramifications of the sins that is impacted their lives for years to come. it will impact their choices that the make every single day with the men that the jews today, , the path they choose to take. and i believe this is long-lasting, not just for me and my family, but more important to my children. many of the women also wanted to point out that a very deserving of the second chance. they deserve a second chance to be able to have their own success story and it is in your hands to make these decisions. and i encourage you to please allow them their own second chance. thank you. >> thank you very much. ms. kerman. >> ranking member ratcliffe members of the committee i appreciate your inviting me here today. in my memoir orange is the new black have kept the 13 month i
spent incarcerated in the federal prison system with much of my time served at the federal correctional institution in danbury, connecticut. i was also incarcerated for a first-time drug offense. i'm grateful to add my voice with other return citizens like cynthia schenk and charlotte gore here with us today to call for changes to u.s. criminal justice system. our expenses are essential to understanding the reform that's needed in the system so that it will both provide for public safety but in a way that is legal, humane, and sensible. and that's what i'm here today. so incarceration rates are not driven by crime rates. they are driven by policy decisions. for decades women and girls have been the fastest growing part of the prison population in the united states. -- >> we will leave this hearing on women in the criminal justice system for just a moment. the senate is expected to gavel in for a brief pro forma session with no votes