View Full Version : Miss. sending more women to prison

08-04-2003, 07:54 PM
Miss. sending more women to prison

Correctional facilities in state held more than 2,000 women in '02
By Matt Volz
The Associated Press

Michelle Byrom, the only woman in Mississippi sentenced to die, is also the state's only death- row inmate spending her remaining days outside the State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Byrom, convicted in the 1999 murder of her husband, is in a cell at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County, the only maximum security prison in the state for women.

Sharing a tier with women convicted of murder, assault or other violent offenses is no easy way to do time, she writes in a series of letters to The Associated Press. Women at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility can be as fierce and unpredictable as the men at Parchman.

There are fights and suicide attempts. And the inmate across the hall from Byrom often sings to her and makes marriage proposals.

"I sit here day to day, praying for the day when they come to me and say, 'Michelle Byrom, pack. It's time you went home,"' Byrom writes.

Mississippi is locking up women faster than just about any state, which is one reason prisoners' ranks have swollen nearly 75 percent during seven years, corrections officials say.

Women are committing more violent crimes, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

The reasons are mixed, criminal justice observers say. They say poverty and poor education are causing more women to commit crimes, while judges have gotten increasingly tougher on female offenders.

"Historically across the country and particularly across the South, judges bent over backward to avoid incarcerating women," said Don Cabana, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Southern Mississippi. "What emerged in the 1980s and 1990s was a tendency to be a lot less reluctant to sentence women."

A recently released U.S. Justice Department report said Mississippi in 2002 had 126 female prisoners per 100,000 female residents. Oklahoma was the only state with a higher rate 131 per 100,000.

There were 2,082 state and federal female prisoners in Mississippi in 2002, the report said. In 1995, there were just 791.

"That's just astounding in terms of where we were a decade ago," said Cabana, a former corrections commissioner and warden of the state penitentiary.

MDOC Commissioner Chris Epps said female violent offenders convicted by the state rose 71 percent from 1995 to 2002. The number of drug convictions also has risen.

"There is a definite correlation between violent crimes and drugs," Epps said.

Overall, Mississippi had 21,397 state and federal prisoners last year, compared to 12,251 in 1995, the Justice Department report said.