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African American Women and the Prison Industrial Complex

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African American Women (Black Americans) and the Prison Industrial Complex

Colorado prison
Colorado prison
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Even with new developments in restoring felons right to vote, African American women (and men) remain one of the largest disenfranchised race/ethnic groups in America.
Inside the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) there is a whole section/system reserved just for female inmates.  Several jails and state and federal prisons are exclusively set up for female prisoners and in some federal prisons there are sections set aside for female prisoners only.

Several of these facilities are well known, including for their sheer size, citations for abuse and even innovative measures like day care centers.

One of the oldest of these federal facilities for women is the Alderson Federal Prison Camp for Women, located in West Virginia.  It is the facility that contained the great jazz/blues artist Billie Holliday as well as chef/designer Martha Stewart.

Other federal prisons are the Federal Women's Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas; Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia and the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York.

Several states have contracts with private corporations, running prisons for women. One such facility is the New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility in Grants, New Mexico.

Overall, high levels of violence (assaults, rape etc) take place in state, federal and private prisons set up to confine women.  One example comes from the former private prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America. (CCA)

The Otter Creek private prison located in Wheelwright, Kentucky has now been closed.  Before closure the female facility was owned and staffed by the CCA. In September 2009, prison guard Charles Prater was charged with first-degree rape. He was the sixth prison guard to be charged with sexual assault at the Otter Creek Facility.

This example is just one of thousands available when examining the jeopardy incarcerated women face.  Amnesty International has reported more than 11,000 reported allegations of sexual assault on female prisoners. For female inmates incarcerated in federal and state facilities, the rate is 1 in 10. In private prisons, the rate is 1 in every 4. These figures are merely the reported allegations as far too many incidents of rape and sexual assault still go unreported.

Black women are overrepresented in the federal prison system.

Most of these women made mistakes (non-violent mistakes) mainly because they don't have the skills (or access to these skills) to be productive members of society.  Locking them up ensures they will never gain the skills needed to better their life chances and those of their children and families.

A large percentage of Black women in prison are there for their involvement with the drug trade (both selling and using).

Some are there for taking the "hit" for their intimate male partners, some of whom have "2 strikes" with a third sending them to prison for a seriously long time.

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics (BJS) the total female prison population in 2011was 1,598,780.  The total number of women in prison in 2011 was 111,387. The total number of Black women in prison in 2011 was 26,000 or 23% of the total female prison population.

But, the rate of imprisonment for Black women was 129/1000 or 3% (this figure is .05% for White women).  The Black women's rate is 6 times higher than for White women.

The reasons Black women are in prison are 33% for violent offenses, 67% for drugs (approximately 25% of the total), property crimes, and public order crimes (DUI, etc).

So, when we combine what we know about the intersection of race and gender, I can conclude that the stats for women are probably pretty consistent across race, with perhaps slightly more Black women being incarcerated for drugs. 

In sum, Black women go to prison for NON VIOLENT offenses (drugs, property crimes, and public order crimes).

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Sociologist interested in Social Stratification (race, class & gender issues)
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