Women in prison


Accused of violently shaking an infant to death, Pamela Jacobazzi (pictured left) was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 32 years in prison. Jacobazzi, who has always maintained her innocence, served time from December 2000 until May 2015 when she was released from prison on parole (pictured right). A 2012 Medill Justice Project investigation raised questions about her conviction and some of the findings were included in Jacobazzi’s clemency petition to the Illinois governor. (Ashley Powell/The Medill Justice Project and Annabel Edwards/The Medill Justice Project)

Accused of violently shaking an infant to death, Pamela Jacobazzi (pictured left) was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 32 years in prison. Jacobazzi, who has always maintained her innocence, served time from December 2000 until May 2015 when she was released from prison on parole (pictured right). A 2012 Medill Justice Project investigation raised questions about her conviction and some of the findings were included in Jacobazzi’s clemency petition to the Illinois governor. (Ashley Powell/The Medill Justice Project and Annabel Edwards/The Medill Justice Project)


The Medill Justice Project is examining challenges facing a rapidly growing population in the U.S. correctional system: women. Although women make up seven percent of the total prison population, the number of female prisoners increased by 745 percent between 1980 and 2013, according to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. As of December 2013, there were 104,174 female inmates serving a sentence of at least a year in prison. The impact of the rising number of female inmates goes beyond prison walls to neighborhoods throughout the country as 65,600 incarcerated mothers were separated from 147,400 children in 2007, according to the most recent information available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly two thirds of incarcerated women were convicted of non-violent crimes; many are serving time because of tough-on-crime legislation introduced decades ago that mandated prison sentences for drug-related offenses.

If you have information about issues related to women in prison, please contact The Medill Justice Project at medilljusticeproject@northwestern.edu, or 847-491-5840.

To read a story The Medill Justice Project wrote on women in prison, click the following link:

Role Call: Women in Prison


The New Dumping Grounds



Mental illness is an epidemic in U.S. prisons, especially for women. That’s the widespread conclusion of human rights groups across the globe, including the World Health Organization, which calls prisons the “dumping grounds” for people with mental illness. In the United States, nearly 400,000 inmates with severe mental illness are locked in jails or prisons. Indeed, there are more seriously mentally ill people incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons than in psychiatric hospitals, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit focused on the treatment of severe mental illness. Abuses at psychiatric institutions in the mid-20th Century led to widespread closings of state hospitals, forcing many patients into the criminal justice system. In state prisons, 73 percent of female inmates reported mental health problems, compared to 55 percent of male inmates, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Incarcerated women are more likely than male inmates to report histories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The most common afflictions among female inmates are post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse, studies show. Many incarcerated women with psychiatric disorders do not receive treatment, and it is common for mentally ill inmates to be housed in solitary confinement, which often exacerbates their condition, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. With this visual series, The Medill Justice Project examines what is a largely unseen, overlooked problem in the U.S. criminal justice system.


To view a Medill Justice Project story about women in prison with mental illness, click the following link:

Blanket of Nothingness