When women are incarcerated, it often impacts many more people than just them—primarily because an alarming 75 percent of imprisoned women are mothers, according to a report from the Women’s Prison Association Institute on Women & Criminal Justice. Not only does their incarceration affect children and families, but it is also going in the wrong direction, rising 828 percent for black women in recent years, based on an NAACP report.
While white women remain the majority (45 percent) in prisons, black women are not far behind at 32 percent; Hispanic women are next at 16 percent. This proportion for black women is still not nearly as bad as that for black men, who outnumber white men in prison by 37 percent to 34 percent??.
Interestingly enough, experts say the statistics for black women aren’t reflective of actual crimes being committed. “Black girls are not committing more crimes, even though they are being incarcerated in record numbers,” said Nikki Jones, a sociologist at UC Santa Barbara, at a conference to address the issue.
Others think “no tolerance” programs and racism could be behind the rise. “We have never seen these kinds of numbers before,” said Meda Chesney-Lind of the University of Hawaii. “National policies like zero tolerance are responsible for the school to prison pipeline. And a dual justice system that treats white girls differently from black girls is disproportionately impacting African American girls.” She also noted that black girls in California got arrested at a rate of 49 out of 1000 compared to 8.9 out of 1000 for white girls.
There has also been increasing coverage of the arrests of black women in the media. Kelly Williams-Bolar and Tanya McDowell received media attention when they were charged for using false addresses to send their kids to what they believed were better schools. Williams-Bolar spent 10 days in jail and McDowell, who had a drug conviction on her record, was sentenced to five years in prison. Salecia Johnson, a 6-year-old girl in Milledgeville, Georgia, recently made headlines after she was handcuffed and charged for throwing a temper tantrum in school.
Jamie and Gladys Scott received a swarm of media attention after being sentenced to life for armed robbery. They were released after serving 16 years after Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi suspended their sentences on the condition that Gladys give Jamie one of her kidneys.
Writer Margaret Kimberly called the rise of incarcerations a “war on black women and children.”
“Black people are punished for driving, for walking down the street, for having children, for putting their children in school, for acting the way children act, and even for having children who are killed by other people,” writes Kimberly. “We are punished, in short, because we still exist.”