by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow

Jewish Women on Both Sides of the Prison Walls

In the mid-1970s, Karen Ramos, a divorced Jewish mother of two, was living in New York with a man she’d met working in the garment district. When he asked her to bring envelopes of his “textile samples” from home, she unsuspectingly complied. The envelopes, as it happened, contained cocaine, and the transaction was photographed. Under New York State’s Rockefeller drug laws, these circumstances spelled a sentence of 15 years to life. Since then, the number of incarcerated women in New York State has increased by 500 percent, nearly double the rate for men, reflecting a trend nationwide. In November, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that the number of women in state and federal prisons is at an all-time high, with the incarceration rate for females increasing at nearly twice that of men. In a 1978 interview, Ramos told Lilith that she intended to devote her life to law reform. “I’ve seen the injustices,” she said.

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