Are Black Women Incarcerated More Often Than Other Races?

African-American Women and the

Criminal Justice System

By: Dr. Lincoln Sloas

In February, we celebrate black history month. In past articles, I have spent time discussing the rates of crime and incarceration amongst black individuals, especially men. In this issue, I take time to discuss the rates of crime amongst females, in particular black females. It is here we now turn.

According to the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women, since the 1908s, the number of women incarcerated in the United States has grown by nearly 700% and has out outpaced men by half. Additionally, as of 2013, 1.2 million women were under some form of correctional control of the criminal justice system.

For females, offending patterns tend to be primarily based in property offenses and drug offenses while nearly are third are violent offenses.

Also, nearly three-quarters of women in state prisons have mental health related issues, including depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. Women are also more likely than males to take prescription medication for their mental health issues. As it pertains to substance abuse issues, 60% of women in state prisons are categorized as either drug dependent or meet abuse criteria.

To this point, a general discussion has been had regarding women involved in the criminal justice system. The questions still remains about the role of black women involved in the criminal justice system. Recent estimates suggest there has been a decline of black women incarcerated in the United States.

However, as of 2014, black women still experienced higher rates of incarceration compared to white women (i.e., 2 times more likely). In light of these estimates, one must ask the question why we are seeing black women being incarcerated at higher rates compared to white women. If both races of females commit the same crime should not it warrant the same time?

Lincoln B. Sloas, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University. His research interests include community corrections with an emphasis on how individuals navigate substance use treatment services and problem-solving courts.

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