Impact of the Prison Industrial Complex on Women

Natalie J. Sokoloff, John Jay College - CUNY

This paper looks at the several different large-scale structures in U.S. society that have led to the Prison Industrial Complex affecting women both inside and outside prison. First I look at the rising number and rate of women in prison and the associated increase in the number of women's prisons across the U.S. The differential impact by race at every step of the criminal justice system leads to the disproportionate impact on poor women of color. Next I discuss the underlying structural reasons for these increases of women (and men) in prison: (1) economic restructuring and its impact on both inner city poverty areas as well as rural industries and farming, (2) the war on drugs, (3) the conservative political milieu over the last 30 years and harsher sentencing laws (and thus treating women as if they were "violent male offenders," which they are not), (4) historical and contemporary racism, (5) the prison industrial complex, and (6) globalization, runaway factories, and re-emergence of some industries in prison. In the last section of the paper I talk about the many impacts the Prison Industrial Complex has had on women lives both inside and outside of prison. For example, incarceration of large numbers of young black men leaves young women alone in the community to take care of their children, while increasing incarceration of young black women leaves their mothers and sisters most likely to be taking care of the imprisoned women's children. I also talk about how PIC impacts on conditions that directly affect women: welfare, jobs, housing, education, safety, etc. Finally, I talk about what we must do to change these conditions.

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Updated 05/20/2006