In New Jersey, 18 out of every 100,000 women were in prison in 2016.

When compared to most other states, that's an outstanding figure.

According to a new report from The Sentencing Project, based in Washington, D.C., the national average of female imprisonment was 57 per 100,000 women. Twenty-four states posted a rate above 60.

New Jersey's rate came in as the third-lowest in the country, worse than only Rhode Island (13) and Massachusetts (13).

Bonnie Kerness, director of American Friends Service Committee's Prison Watch program in Newark, said more women in New Jersey are being diverted to Drug Court programs, rather than imprisonment. in 2012, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a measure into law expanding the program to include additional drug offenders.

Pointing to another potential reason for New Jersey's better-than-average female imprisonment rate, Kerness cited a collaborative group of organizations within the state that are focused on the monitoring and oversight of related issues.

"This is also happening at the same time that two buildings were condemned at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton," Kerness said. "I don't know how that plays out with judges who are responsible for sentencing people. There is less space."

Nationally, the rate of growth for female imprisonment was twice as high as that of men between 1980 and 2016, the report finds.

"In 1980, there were about 26,000 women in prisons and jails in the United States," co-author Nazgol Ghandnoosh told New Jersey 101.5. "By 2016, which is the most recent year of data that we have, it's nearly 214,000 women incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country."

Ghandnoosh said fluctuations in prison and jail populations are typically linked to policy, rather than a change in a population's criminal behavior. The national uptick in female imprisonment, according to the report, is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women.

In a March report from The Sentencing Project, New Jersey was recognized as a leader in reducing the prison population. The state experienced a 37 percent decline from 1999 to 2016. The state, however, also ranks as having the worst racial disparities within its prison population.

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