Prisons and Jails: A Fertile Recruiting Ground for Human Trafficking

By Mitzi Perdue

When you think of human trafficking, here are two factors you may not have considered. Both of these factors involve the need for prison reform.

  1. 1.Too often traffickers target female prisoners on their release.  
  2. 2.Children of mothers who are incarcerated all too often end up in foster care. If they run away from foster care, which is a serious risk, they will be attractive prey for human traffickers.

Let’s deal first with the issue of incarcerated women being trafficked after they’re released.  

Incarcerated women who Get Trafficked

Although what you’re about to read is a composite, it’s based on real people, known to your author.  I’ve met them because of a prison visit organized by the prison reform organization, Defy Ventures.

 So, let’s suppose for a seriously unpleasant moment, that you’re in a women’s prison, and you’ve been there for five years. You’re in for attempted murder, and while normally you’d be in for much longer than five years, in this case, you’ve been a model prisoner.  

You had an enormous incentive to be a model prisoner because you have a daughter you haven’t seen since she was seven. Making parole as fast as possible is the most important thing in your life. 

During your five years, you’ve spent almost every waking second thinking about her, wondering how she’s doing, missing her, regretting that one terrible day which happens to be the worst day of your life, when you shot at your abuser because you just couldn’t take one second more of his battering.

Today you’ve made parole and you’re about to walk out of the correctional facility and leave the guards and the locked doors and the claustrophobia. However, once you walk out the door, you’re up against a horrific problem.

Where are you going to find an apartment? You’re a convicted felon, one who’s done time, and it seems that the only landlords who will consider you are slum landlords. They preside over rodent-infested, drug-infested, crime-infested, buildings where the heat goes off, the water may not work, and ceiling leaks go unattended. It’s a nightmare.

On top of that, you’re in one of the  many parts of the county where having a criminal history automatically disqualifies you from access to public housing.

And then there’s the question of getting a job.  What decent job is available to you, now that you’re a convicted felon? The data shows that it is already hard enough for women to reenter the workforce after a prolonged period out of the job market. You’re now discovering how hard it is to reenter the workforce after a prolonged period of incarceration.

You’re wrestling with these two realities, and as you take your first steps into the seemingly unreal and terrifying world of freedom, a seeming miracle happens!  By chance (except it wasn’t by chance) you meet this warm and wonderful guy outside the prison gate who wants to help you!

He’s kind and gentle and reassuring.  He completely understands you and offers you a place to stay and a nice, non-prison meal.  You’re so grateful!

Unfortunately for you, he’s a pimp.  He knows you’re vulnerable, and although he started out as a Romeo pimp, he quickly turns into a guerrilla pimp.  In a matter of days, you’re being sex-trafficked, and if you don’t have sex with as many as a dozen strangers each night, he’ll beat, starve and torture you.

Children of Incarcerated Women Can End Up Trafficked

And what about your dream of reuniting with your daughter?  In the next couple of weeks, you learn from others who are being trafficked out why she never visited you in prison. She hated her foster family, ran away, and a trafficker found her and she’s now living the same wretched life that you are.

Her chances of escaping “the life” and your chances of escaping are less than 2%. If you’re lucky, you may “age out” of forced prostitution, but in the case of your daughter, the most likely outcome is she’ll die of an overdose, suicide, disease, or murder. 

As Marcus Glover, head of Defy points out, “Traffickers have identified the prison system as fertile recruitment grounds for their ‘stables.’”

When considering prison reform, keep in mind the prison and human-trafficking connection. It’s real, it’s horrifying, if we care about human trafficking, it deserves our attention.

For more information on prison reform and human trafficking, contact Marcus Glover at or visit his website at

About The Author

Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University. She's a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.

She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.