Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Black Women and Incarceration Rates

The shackles of slavery endured into other eras, including convict leasing systems and chain gangs. In order to sustain these systems, de-humanizing stereotypes of black women were created to maintain the difference between white and African American women. Black girls are still dealing with racial and gendered stereotypes that were used to justify punishment.

-Priscilla Ocen, professor at UCLA’s Critical Race Studies

While white women make up most of the prison population overall at 45.5 % (Compared to Blacks at 32.6%, and Hispanics at 16%) Blacks women are disproportionately represent in incarceration rates. For every 100,000 Black women, 349 are incarcerated while for every 100,000 white women, 93 are incarcerated (Institute on Women and Criminal Justice, n.d.) From a theoretical context, those in prison who are represented that are women are white and those in prison who are represented as Black are male. Little attention is paid to the Black woman. Particularly Black women with a double or triple biased against them. (For some race and gender, and for others race, gender, and socioeconomic class) Considering the United States has its own form of caste system those who fall into the category of triple biased often times than not are forgotten faces within our prison systems.

While the “American criminal system operates on a double standard” few acknowledge that the double standard is a perk of those who are white, female and often times than not privileged (French, 1978). (Ah, the feminization of poverty and racism, deep sigh) Justice does not have a double standard when it comes to Black women, and though the rates of women in general are lower than the rates of men, Black women are not given the leisure to be seen as an entity that should not be in prison.

Racist-hypermasculinity has governed that white women can’t commit “crimes” (Cough, sputter, situations such as those with Casey Anthony, cough, cough, sputter) but the same cannot be said about Black women. Black women and girls are becoming the fastest growing population of incarcerated persons. The most frightening fact about this is that Black women are given more time for the same crimes committed by white women and furthermore brutalized when in the prison system. Black women are more prone to physical and or sexual abuse than their white female counterparts. A report by the National Corrections Information Center showed that the United States is one of only a handful of countries that allows males to guard female prisoners.

Perhaps it is the money received for incarcerated individuals and programs such as rehabilitation and drug counseling that fuels this rise of women in the prison systems. Perhaps it is the old notions that have not died hard within the fabric work of a land founded on genocide and slavery that allows such baffling statistics to be ignored. Or maybe it’s that all Blacks must be men and all women must indeed be white with no intersectionality between gender and race. Or maybe this is a clear indication that society doesn’t much give a damn (And really they never did) about what happens to Black women because to society we don’t exist except to fulfill the needs of the higher class and the dominant race. Perhaps, to them we don’t matter. However, there are those of us who are paying attention and some form of reformation to sentencing policies is needed. Because, well, hell, I care about Black incarcerated women.


French, L. (1978). Incarcerated Black Female: The Case of Social Double Jeopardy. Journal of Black Studies, 8(3), 321-335. Retrieved from

Institute on Women and Criminal Justice. (n.d.). Quick facts: Women and criminal justice. Retrieved from


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