Prisoners of War: African-American Female Incarceration at the End of the 80s

Kristin A. Bates, California State University - San Marcos
Garry Rolison, California State University - San Marcos

Using the 1991 study of State and Federal Prisoners conducted by the National Institute of Justice, we examine factors that distinguish between African American women and White women who were incarcerated in prison for drug offenses and violent offenses. As proxies for level of criminality, we test variables from three theoretical positions and involvement in the criminal justice system. We find that proportionately more African American women are incarcerated for drug offenses relative to White women. Additionally, we find that African American women who are incarcerated for drug offenses are substantially less likely to have been involved in the criminal justice system and to evidence fewer factors associated with criminality than their violent offense counterparts. These findings are in contradiction to those of White women. We conclude that this provides evidence that the 'War on Drugs' has in effect been a mechanism to punish African American women drug users, not to punish criminals.

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Updated 05/20/2006