Thursday, March 13, 2008

As their crime rate climbs, more women filling jails

The Times-Union

For 50-year-old Maria Vizcaya, the stress of caring for seven children was too much.

She said she turned to crack cocaine as a way to escape and then to prostitution to support her habit. After being raped and abused, she said, she felt like nothing. Now she's serving time for prostitution charges in Jacksonville. She said many women like herself turn to crime because they don't like who they are. "I'm not trying to make excuses, but we really are victims," she said. "I did things that I didn't think I had it in me to do." Vizcaya's story has become all too common, with the number of female inmates increasing nationally by twice the rate of their male counterparts from 1977 to 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Jacksonville officials have seen the same increase. "It used to be that it'd be surprising to have the women's floor full [in the old jail]," said Stephanie Sloan-Butler, chief of the prisons division for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. "Now the women's floors are full. Things have really changed." Becoming more even There was a 26 percent increase in female inmates in Jacksonville from 2000 to 2007, compared with 9 percent for male inmates. Jacksonville beats the national average, with female inmates making up a quarter of the corrections population, compared with 7.2 percent nationally. Women also are being arrested for different crimes than men. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 53 percent of male prisoners are serving time for violent crimes, as opposed to 34 percent of women. Sixty percent of female inmates were convicted of either property or drug crimes, compared to 40 percent of male prisoners. Women in Jacksonville received far more charges than men for check crimes and prostitution in 2007. Men outranked women in murder, sex crimes, assault, battery and robbery. Although they weren't able to provide data, Jacksonville corrections officials said they've noticed women being arrested for more violent crimes in the past few years. From Lena Cumberbatch, who was convicted of drowning her foster daughter in Jacksonville in 2001, to iconic bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, experts say women are more likely to commit crimes because of family or love. "Women look for connections. They look for relationships," said Pamela Dronski, visiting professor at the University of North Florida. "Even when it comes to crime, it all comes to connecting with somebody else, whether it's rejection, love, family." This is something Dronski, who teaches a course called Women in Jail, knows about personally. When she was an infant in 1975, she said, her mother, Norma Summerall, killed her abusive husband. Even though Summerall only served three years, Dronski said her mother was emotionally affected for a lifetime. But Dronski believes women aren't as violent in nature as men and that they are pushed to commit crimes. Studies show three out of four female inmates have some history of abuse. Just compare two of Florida's most famous serial killers: Aileen Wournos, a prostitute who killed six men in 1989 and 1990, and Ted Bundy, who killed at least 19 women in the mid-1970s. Dronski said Wournos' case is much more sympathetic because she was raped and beaten, while Bundy fits the profile of a sociopath. UNF professor Christine Rasche, who teaches Women in Crime, said the rise in female inmates could be attributed to the changing gender roles. She said some women aren't taught to be "sweet and polite and nice little ladies like they used to be. They are taught be more assertive and aggressive." When it comes to drugs, the same issues affect men and women: stress and peer pressure. Ashley May, a 19-year-old inmate in Jacksonville, said she was arrested on alcohol charges because she was "partying too much," while 23-year-old inmate Leann Carlson said she became addicted to crack cocaine after trying it out of curiosity. Dealing with the influx Experts say women serve their jail or prison time much differently than men. Yet many correctional facilities across the country have been criticized for not treating women differently when it comes to rehabilitation. Jacksonville has programs at the jails specified for women, such as classes in healthy decision-making, money management and domestic abuse. The biggest difference though is about child care. Women are more likely to be the sole provider for children, so visitation and parenting classes often can be more important than they are for men.

Unfortunately, child visitation programs have been eliminated because of funding cuts, Sloan-Butler said. Now, women can meet with only one child and one adult at a time once a week. As a result, Sloan-Butler said, they only take away visitation rights for especially bad behavior. Sloan-Butler said it's also more difficult for women to find jobs when they are released. The blue-collar jobs in factories and construction that hire many male ex-convicts often don't appeal to women. In addition, many women have to deal with a battered self-esteem after spending time locked up, which can affect them when they're trying to find a job, she said. Jail officials and academics both said they would like to see more therapy for women locked up and job training to suit women's skills. Even though she's never really worked before, Vizcaya said she wants to find an office job and stay off drugs. "A lot of people want to tell me what I can't do, but I have to stay positive and know I can do it," she said., (904) 359-4247 Five Theories on the rise in female inmates changing gender roles in the past few decades, women have proved they can do anything men can do - including crime. Some theorize that women are being raised to be more aggressive and assertive and that's why you find more female robbers and drug dealers than you would have years ago. Crack cocaine addiction Some believe there's a direct correlation between the rise in the War on Drugs arrests in the 1980s and the increase in female inmates. Nationally, women have a greater percentage of drug arrests than men. There's a belief that women might not be committing more crimes than they used to, but that law enforcement now is tougher on women. Some speculate that women used to be let off the hook for crimes such as drunken driving and fighting, but enforcement now is equal. Too many single moms Some think a rise in single mothers can be connected to a rise in women being arrested for thefts, burglaries, prostitution and drug dealing. The added stress also might encourage some to use drugs as an escape. More women working Women now have more responsibility in offices than they did decades ago, which gives them more opportunities to commit crimes such as check fraud, one of the more common charges among female inmates. Sources: Christine Rasche and Pamela Dronski, University of North Florida By ADAM AASEN -- The Times-Union Most women aren't in jail for violent crimes, and experts say th e women who do commit violent crimes do it for far different reasons than men. Most female murderers kill family or spouses, said Pamela Dronski, visiting professor at the University of North Florida.

Here are some of the First Coast's most notorious female criminals: Lena T. CumberbatchConvicted of drowning a 15-month-old girl in a bathtub in 2001. Cumberbatch, now 43, beat and then drowned her foster daughter, Lautiana Hamilton, in her Arlington home. Her own children, ages 12, 11, 10 and 9, testified that their mother had abused them in the past. Sentenced to life. Shana Barnes Convicted of shooting her husband in 2000. Barnes, now 43, shot her husband from her car window as she was backing out of the garage of her Arlington home. She initially claimed self-defense. Plea bargain to manslaughter charges. Josie Clark & Wendy Calderon Convicted in 1999 of aircraft hijacking. Clark, then 53, of Gainesville pulled a gun on a helicopter pilot to attempt a breakout for her husband, a Death Row inmate. She was accompanied by 32-year-old Calderon of Citra. Sentenced to 12 years in prison. Veronica Perdue Convicted in 1990 drowning of her two young children. Perdue, then 22, was arrested when her sons, 2 and 4 years old, were found floating in a 40-foot borrow pit. She claimed she was fleeing from a knife-wielding man who forced her off the road. Sentenced to life. Wendy Leigh Zabel Convicted of abducting an infant and killing the baby's mother in 1987. Zabel, then 19, abducted 4-day-old Heather Witt and then stabbed and shot 30-year-old Joan Witt. Witt's mother, Marie Barrett, 56, also was stabbed and shot but survived. Sentenced to life. Andrea Hicks Jackson Convicted of fatally shooting a police officer in 1983. Jackson, then 25, shot 28-year-old Gary Bevel when he was questioning her in Brentwood Park about filing a false police report. Sentenced to death, but later changed to life in prison. Jimberly Lisa Hester & Renee Magnuson Indicted in a 1976 ritual slaying in Jacksonville Beach. The women, then 19, along with 20-year-old Billy Magnuson, were accused of stabbing Hester's 74-year-old grandmother, Vera S. Gould, to "drive out Satan." Charges dropped due to insanity, sent to a mental hospital. NOTORIOUS WOMEN of FIRST COAST Tiffany Cox Convicted of kidnapping and burying a couple alive in 2005. The details The bodies of Carol and Reggie Sumner, both 61, were found in a shallow grave just north of the Florida border. Cole, then 23, was arrested along with three men in the deaths. The verdict Cox, shown awaiting sentencing Thursday in the Duval County Courthouse, was given the death penalty.

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