When it comes to the discussion of the prison industrial complex in the Black community, most of the focus is on the high numbers Black men behind bars. While the statistics are alarming (as of 2001, one in six Black men had spent some time in prison and jails), women are now being incarcerated at twice the rate as men.
Between 1980 and 2010, the number of women sentenced to prison rose by over 600-percent, and there are now over 200,000 women behind bars. The reason? Drugs.
The War on Drugs has condemned countless women to prison for either aiding their boyfriends’ drug operations—both knowingly and unknowingly—or being addicted to controlled substances.
According to the NAACP, although African Americans represent just 12-percent of drug users, they account for 38-percent of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59-percent of those in state prison for a drug offense. Moreover, the Sentencing Project reports that African Americans “serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months).”
Though many states are moving to decriminalize the use of banned substances like marijuana, the drug war has taken a serious toll on women and families. Many women are sentenced to prison while they are pregnant, and most female inmates have children at home.
The effects? Children are thrown into the foster care system, which puts them at risk for following in their mother’s footsteps and ending up in the jail system.
Today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama Administration is rolling out a “new and improved approach will make the criteria for clemency recommendation more expansive” and may clear the way for thousands of non-violent drug offenders to get out of prison earlier than their harsh sentences allowed.
Holder explained the reason for the change:
“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” he said in a videotaped statement. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”
“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime.”
Recently, Brave New Films looked into the growing numbers of women in prison and what America can do, in addition to expanding clemency options, to change things.
Take a look: