Women's Pathways Into and Out of Jail in Buncombe County Findings from Research with Women Detained in Buncombe County and Recommendations for Reducing the Use of Jail

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This report presents an analysis of women’s experiences with the local criminal legal system in Buncombe County, North Carolina: their pathways into and out of the jail, their living conditions and concerns during detention, and their perspectives on how services and systems in the county can improve. This study occurred in September 2021 at a time when COVID restrictions were still in place. Since then, the women’s population in the Buncombe County jail has continued to grow, making findings and recommendations even more urgent.

The underlying research project was part of the broader jail reduction work of the Safety and Justice Challenge network. The findings in this report are based on administrative data from the jail (January 2017–April 2021); surveys with 40 women, representing nearly all the women who were held in the jail in September 2021; and interviews with 21 women conducted by Vera staff via video calls. This report finds that women’s pathways into jail in Buncombe County—in line with national patterns—are shaped by economic instability and laws and policies that criminalize acts of survival and acts related to substance dependency.

Key Takeaway

In general, there is an excessive use of police, jail detention, and community supervision for low-level charges that do not pose a public safety risk. There is a clear opportunity to reduce the use of criminal legal system resources and invest instead in supportive community-based services, especially for women.

Publication Highlights

  • The number of women in jail dropped in 2020 during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased to pre-pandemic levels in early 2022 and to date, has continued to grow even more.

  • Black women are dramatically overrepresented in the jail.

  • Drug-related charges are a growing driver of women’s incarceration.

Key Facts