Women are the fastest growing prison population in the United States, accounting for 7% of the population in state and federal prisons. According to the ACLU, more than one million women are either currently serving time or are under control of the criminal justice system in some way.
The rise is due in part fo the 20-year war on drugs. In the past decade, 40% of criminal convictions that put these ladies behind bars were for drug crimes, while 34% were for white-collar crimes such as fraud. Only 18% of women in the last 10 years have been sent to prison over violent offenses.
There’s a marriage between girl power and manpower in the push for criminal justice reform in our country. In honor of Black History Month, we’re shining a light on the women behind it all, past and present. Meet them below.
1. Deanna Van Buren
Architecture isn’t the first tenet to come to mind when discussing criminal justice reform. However, it’s of the upmost importance to Deanna Van Buren, the creative mind behind Designing Justice + Designing Spaces. Her goal is to end mass incarceration by building “infrastructure that addresses its root causes: poverty, racism, unequal access to resources, and the criminal justice system itself.” Van Buren and her team create housing and other community spaces meant for restorative justice which seeks to understand victims needs while holding offenders accountable in a way that prevents them from repeating their actions.
2. Kimberly Foxx
Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx is the first of her kind—an African-American woman leading the charge to address the underlying causes of crime in Chicago, the third largest city in America. She caught national attention in 2018 when she released over six years of felony criminal case data on the Cook County Open Data Portal. It was the first release of its kind in the country. Still, Foxx faced her fair share of criticism when she opted to drop charges against actor Jussie Smollett in his alleged hate crime inicdent gone haywire in 2019. Now, she’s hoping to eclipse those missteps in her 2020 run for re-election.
3. Michelle Alexander
Michelle Alexander is the author behind the so-called social justice Bible. Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” unearthed the caste-like system that has kept people of color and poor people behind bars and denied the rights won in the Civil Rights Movement. The 2010 text even played a seminal role in Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary 13th. Since its release, Alexander devotes much of her time to freelance writing, public speaking and consulting with advocacy organizations committed to ending mass incarceration.
Source: New Jim Crow
4. Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza
A trio of self-proclaimed freedom fighters are the masterminds behind what could be considered the basecamp for the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. Alicia Garza, along with Opal Tometi and Patrisse Khan-Cullors co-founded Black Lives Matter in 2013, a globally recognized organizing project that focuses on combating anti-Black state-sanctioned violence and the oppression of all Black people. Since its inception, more than a dozen chapters have sprung up across the United States and Canada. Looking ahead, Black Lives Matter has eyes on the 2020 election, hoping to galvanizing supporters and allies to build collective power to get people to the polls.
Source: Black Lives Matter
5. Marian Wright Edelman
Back in the 1970s, Marian Wright Edelman made it her mission to eradicate the cradle to prison pipeline crisis with the creation of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Nearly 40 years later, the 80-year-old continues to fight for juvenile justice reform through ending child poverty and gun violence against children. Her efforts have earned her accolades such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship and a Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Source: Children’s Defense Fund
6. Angela Davis
A young revolutionary, Angela Davis began advocating for the release of black non-violent offenders in the 1960s and 1970s. Davis grew attached to George Jackson in 1970, one of the so-called Soledad Brothers. She was later acquitted of charges relating to a botched kidnapping and prison break that resulted in multiple deaths. Jackson’s brother Jonathan was among those killed. Davis still continues her activism work till this day. In 2019, it was announced that a biopic based on her life was in the works from Lionsgate.
7. Kim Kardashian
You might hate to see it. But, despite whatever reservations you might have about Kim Kardashian, the reality star is a leading force in the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. Kim K visited the White House several times in 2019 to advocate for programs that help those leaving prison get jobs and stay on track. She also went to bat for offenders who demonstrated they were no longer a threat to society such as Momolu Stewart, Cyntoia Brown and Alice Marie Johnson. All were granted clemency and have since been released from prison. Kim K even had a hand in halting the execution of Rodney Reed. For her birthday, husband Kanye West donated $1 million in Kardashian’s name to four criminal justice reform charities, Cut 50, Buried Alive Project, Equal Justice Initiative , and Anti-Recidivism Coalition. Kim Kardashian is true to this. In a Today Show interview in November 2019, Kim explained that becoming a mother of black sons has helped motivate her to make the world better for people who look like her children.
Source: The Marshall Project