Professors Concerned About Boom in Black Female Incarceration

African-American women are now the fastest growing prison population. Why is California allowing this to grow?

Posted: 03/17/2011 10:03 AM EDT

African-American women, who for decades were able to avoid the incarceration rates of their male counterparts, are seeing an upswing in their imprisonment, new data shows.

Currently, Black women are the fastest growing prison population in America. This is troubling in and of itself, but exacerbating things is that, as with black men, the American criminal justice system treats African-American women horribly once they’re in the judicial system.

Not only are Black women eight times more likely than white women to go to prison in the first place—despite the fact one study from Michigan showed that white women are arrested more often overall—they’re also given longer sentences and suffer extreme abuses at the hands of prison authorities.

According to Barry Krisberg, policy director at Berkeley’s Earl Warren Institute on Law, “Once in the criminal justice system, African-American girls are treated with brutality, so much emotional and sexual abuse.” Krisberg spoke at a recent conference on Black women and incarceration, and his warnings were frightening. “We are violating African-American girls’ human rights everyday in all 58 counties of California,” he said. “Where are the lawsuits? Where is the accountability?”

In California, specifically the arrest rate was 49 per 1,000 African-American women, compared to 8.9 per 1,000 white women. For Latinas, that number was slightly higher, at 14.9 per 1,000.

Still, it’s black women who remain the most devastated by this problem. “I’ve been studying this for decades,” said Meda Chesney-Lind, a professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii. “We have never seen these kind of numbers before. 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.”

 

(Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

From Our Partners