Drug Use Increase Leads To Female Inmate Population Rise

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County Jail population is currently at 268 with 229 being male and 39 being female. While the female population remains in the minority, County Sheriff Joe Gerace said there is country-wide increase in female incarcerations.

“We’ve been unfortunately seeing a steady increase in the number of females that have come in,” Gerace said of the female incarcerations. “It’s something that is an issue nationwide.”

The female population makes up 17 percent of the total population. Seventeen of the 39 incarcerated females were charged with a specific drug offense.

“(The female population) is still a minority population in the scope of things, but it’s an issue throughout the country,” Gerace said.

Gerace equated the rise in female inmates to increased drug use. Gerace said the increase of drug use and drug-related incarcerations is on the rise nationally.

“We’re not an exception to that,” he said.

A national study published in 2016 supported Gerace’s claim that female incarceration rates are increasing. The study was conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) and the Safety and Justice Challenge, an initiative created by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The Vera study indicates that since 1970, female population in U.S. jail systems have increased 14-fold. In 1970 there were around 8,000 women in jails and in 2014 there were 110,000.

The study cites the female inmate population, similar to men, as being mostly individuals of color, poor and low-income and survivors of violence and trauma. Additionally, it states these women are more likely to have physical and mental illness and substance abuse.

The Vera study indicates that women in jail are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses including 32 percent charged with property crimes, 29 percent for drug offenses and 21 percent related to public order offenses. Additionally, the study cites 82 percent of women in jail have a drug or alcohol dependency.

In Chautauqua County, Gerace said the Sheriff’s Office feels the leading drug on the rise is Methamphetamine. He said meth is easier to manufacturer, cheaper and addictive. While on two different ends of the drug spectrum, Gerace said he has seen a shift from heroine use to meth.

“We’re addressing drug abuse regardless of the drug,” he said.

The jail is currently planning to implement housing for drug-dependent inmates. Gerace hoped the addition would be ready by the end of the year. The unit will focus on drug dependent inmates and helping those inmates detox while incarcerated. Willing participants will be given treatment as part of their daily routine.

Also, the program will assist drug-addicted inmates as they reenter civilian life upon release. Gerace said the likelyhood of overdose within the first week upon reentry increases because the individuals tolerance levels and body has been without drugs for an extended period. And often times the individual will try to use drugs like they were before incarceration. The program is being planned with Chautauqua County Mental Health and Human Services, the Mental Health Association in Chautauqua County and BOCES.