Research demonstrates that the pathways to incarceration for many Oklahoma women begin early in childhood. Childhood experiences of child physical and sexual abuse, chaotic home environments and poverty present hurdles to educational attainment and transform into later substance abuse and addiction and problems with mental illness. Adult victimization and experiences of domestic violence are the adult parallels of childhood experiences. Children who live in environments such as these today have a significantly increased risk of being incarcerated tomorrow. Without intervention, the cycle continues.

Oklahoma continues to rank number one in female incarceration. The costs are immeasurable to our children, our families, our communities, our state and our future.

Common Characteristics of Female Offenders
History of family dysfunction, trauma and violence | Substance abuse and addiction | Medical Issues | Economic marginalization and poverty | Women offenders as mothers | Unhealthy Relationships

In Childhood:

  • 66% Child physical and/or sexual abuse
  • 61% Divorced parents
  • 53% Ran away from home before age 18

In Adulthood:

  • 71% Domestic violence
  • 36% Victims of rape past the age of 18

At Reception (FY 2010):

  • 63% Need for substance abuse treatment
  • 57% Mental illness (current or past)
  • 84% Unemployed at time of arrest
  • 70% Need for basic education

Children of Incarcerated Parents

  • There are approximately 4,624 children under the age of 18 with a mother in prison in Oklahoma.

Risk Factors for Children of Incarcerated Parents

Children of incarcerated parents are at risk of:

  • Poor School Performance
  • Drug Use
  • Mental Health Problems
  • Exposure to parental substance abuse, extreme poverty and domestic violence
  • Depression
  • Running Away from Home
  • Dropping Out of School


During FY 2010, 1,393 female offenders were received into the Oklahoma Department of Corrections – an increase of 109 over FY 2009. The largest numbers of receptions during Fiscal Year 2010 were from Oklahoma, Tulsa, Comanche, Creek, Pottawatomie, Garfield and Grady counties.

Top Five Offenses: Female Offender Receptions

During FY 2010, 78.6% of the female offender population was sent to prison on a non-violent offense.


  • 1,271 female offenders served their sentence and were released during Fiscal Year 2010
  • 38% of these female offenders served less than 1 year in prison

Barriers to Employment

  • Education – 70% of ODOC female receptions assessed a need for education
  • Limited work history and work skills
  • Statutory/regulatory – Ex-offenders face bans from employment in certain industries
  • Transportation – In Oklahoma, drug offenders may have their license revoked, even if offense does not relate to a motor vehicle

Source:  The Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Division of Female Offenders Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Report.

Children and Families

Children of incarcerated parents are at a higher risk of drug use, poor school performance, extreme poverty and are more likely to be incarcerated during their lifetime. Also, incarcerating women who are mothers has an irreversible impact on the lives of children and families.

Communities and State

We can get a better return for our taxpayer dollars by investing in alternative programs that hold nonviolent offenders accountable and help them become productive, taxpaying members of our communities.


Incarcerating nonviolent female offenders perpetuates the intergenerational cycle of incarceration, which will ultimately impact the safety of our communities.