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
Though many states are moving to decimalize 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
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: