ACLU of VA // Friends of Guest House

ACLU of VA // Friends of Guest House

On September 8, 2018, Friends of Guest House joined the ACLU of Virginia at their annual member meeting and 50th anniversary celebration of the ACLU of Virginia. In this meeting, the ACLU of Virginia released a report, “Women in the Criminal Justice System: Pathways to Incarceration,” below. Guest House clients worked with the ACLU of Virginia staff to create the report. Several clients participated in focus groups with the staff to share their stories and provide insight on the continuous rise of the number of women incarcerated in Virginia.

The report raises some critical questions: Why is the incarceration of women increasing in Virginia at much higher rates than the incarceration of men? Are there gender-specific factors that are not being addressed through ongoing legislative and policy efforts to reduce Virginia’s prison and jail populations? If so, what are they? And what reforms must be made to ensure that women are included in our efforts to promote safe communities while reducing the number of Virginians sentenced to prison and jail time?

During the meeting, Heidi Christiansen, a Guest House graduate, spoke on the panel of formerly incarcerated women. Heidi shared her personal pathway to the criminal justice system that included surviving several years of domestic violence and her battle with addiction starting with prescription painkillers and escalating to heroin use. Heidi also shared her appreciation for the Friends of Guest House program and its important role in her successful reentry.

According to the ACLU of Virginia, between 2010 and 2014 the average inmate population in Virginia’s local and regional jails increased by a ratio of 8 women to every one man. The majority of women’s crimes are economically motivated or the result of untreated or poorly treated substance use disorders.

In just over 35 years the number of women incarcerated in Virginia state prisons alone has increased by 930%.