Women of Color & Prisons

We are told that prisons will keep us safe from domestic and sexual violence, but prisons are a source of extreme violence for women of color. Consider:

  • Since 1980 the number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate for men. The number of people in women’s prisons rose almost twice as fast (4.8%) as the growth of the number of men imprisoned (2.7%).
  • The number of women in state and federal prisons has increased eight-fold from 12,300 in 1980 to 107,500 in 2005.
  • 30% of women prisoners are African American and 16% are Latinas. Black women are incarcerated at 4 times the rate of white women.
  • Women in state prisons in 2003 were more likely than men to be incarcerated for a drug offense (29% vs. 19%) or property offense (30% vs. 20%) and less likely than men to be incarcerated for a violent offense (35% vs. 53%).
  • In 1997, Latinas (44%) and African American women (39%) were more likely to be incarcerated for a drug offense than white women (23%).
  • Three-quarters of women in state and federal prisons report that they had used drugs regularly prior to their arrest; over 60% had used drugs in the month prior to their offense.
  • In 1997, 65% of women in state prisons were parents of minor children, compared to 55% of men. Two-thirds of mothers incarcerated in state prison lived with their children prior to their arrest.
  • Approximately 37% of women and 28% of men in prison had monthly incomes of less than $600 prior to their arrest.
  • Nearly a quarter of women in state prisons have a history of mental illness.
  • Nationally 3.6% of women in state and federal prisons were HIV positive in 2000, compared to 2% of men. The women’s figures range as high as 18.2% in New York State and 41% in the District of Columbia.
  • More than half of the women in state prisons have been abused, 47% physically abused and 39% sexually abused (with many being survivors of both types of abuse).

Statistics from The Sentencing Project & Critical Resistance

For more information about prisons and violence against women of color, please see the following resources:

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