Nation’s Black Women are Jailed at Unfair Rates, Study Says

Nation’s Black Women are Jailed at Unfair Rates, Study Says

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Black families are hurt by unfairly high incarceration rates for African-American women and the impediments they face once they’re out of jail. That’s according to “The Status of Black Women in the United States,” released in June and coauthored by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington and the National Domestic Workers Alliance in New York. Meanwhile, for its part, Louisiana—the nation’s most incarcerated state—has introduced criminal-justice reforms that could help Black females freed from prison.

Black women are more prone to being jailed than White women, and that tendency starts in school. Racial disparities in discipline exist throughout the nation’s education system, the SOBW researchers said. In now-dated statistics, Black girls between 2011 and 2012 accounted for 45 percent of all girls suspended from K-12 public schools nationally, and they represented 42 percent of all girls expelled. They were suspended and expelled at higher rates than Black boys.

Disciplining of Black girls appears to be influenced by school administrators’ stereotypes and racial biases, the SOBW researchers said. Black girls are more likely to be seen as disruptive or loud, compared with other students. They’re more often punished for dress-code violations, talking back to teachers and “defiance” than other girls. What’s worse, Black girls with disabilities are more prone to being suspended from school than other Black girls.

“Unsurprisingly, disproportionate suspensions and expulsions have long-term negative effects on these girls’ educational outcomes,” the SOBW researchers said. School discipline policies can contribute to future criminalization. From 2009 to 2010, Black girls represented 17 percent of American female students, but they comprised 31 percent of all girls referred to law enforcement and 43 percent of girls subjected to a school-related arrests.

The report considers the impacts of physical and sexual abuse. American girls of all races, after suffering abuse, can run away from home or enter the child-welfare system—both of which raise their chances of entering the juvenile justice system.

Twenty-one percent of Black women are raped during their lifetime, versus 19.3 percent of all American women aged 18 and older. Compared with white women, Black women are at greater risk for domestic violence. More than 40 percent of Black women suffer violence from a spouse or partner in their lifetimes, versus 30.5 percent of white women and 29.7 percent of Hispanic women. Black females are more likely to be killed by their spouses or partners. They are at higher risk of being victims of homicide committed by men. Most Black female victims are killed by men they know, often during an argument.

In New Orleans, Black women are more likely to be murder victims than white women. Last year, 175 murders occurred in Orleans Parish, the most since 193 were recorded in 2012, according to local crime consultant Jeff Asher. The city’s murder rate, or victims, per 100,000 residents last year was led by Black men at 133.4, followed by Hispanic men at 42; Asian men at 17.4; Black women at 12.8 and white women at 3.3, he calculated. “But since these numbers are based on unofficial murder counts, and since the city solves only about 30 percent of its murders, I’m hesitant to say anything specific about demographics,” Asher said.

Nationally, survivors of domestic abuse and violence report missing school or work and needing medical care, legal services and sheltering. For Black girls and women, higher poverty rates and unequal access to health and other care can worsen the effects of domestic abuse. According to the American Civil Liberties Union in 2011, almost 60 percent of female state prisoners across the nation had suffered physical or sexual abuse.

Women and girls of color are the fastest growing populations within U.S. prisons, the SOBW researchers said. As of 2014, Black women of all ages were twice as likely to be imprisoned as white females, and Black women aged 18 to 19 were four times more likely to be jailed than their white counterparts.

As of 2014, America’s Black men had the highest imprisonment rate at 2.72 percent, while 0.11 percent of Black females were serving at least a year in prison—the biggest proportion among all women.

In Louisiana, however, the number of Black women in jail has declined recently. Black women held in state and parish facilities overseen by Louisiana’s Department of Public Safety & Corrections fell to 810 last year from 1,264 in 2012, Natalie LaBorde, the department’s deputy assistant secretary, said last week. Last year, Black women accounted for 40.9 percent of female prisoners at these Louisiana facilities, down from 52.9 percent in 2012.

SOBW researchers attributed high incarceration rates for Black women and girls nationally to school discipline, racial and gender biases in the criminal justice system, and “The War on Drugs.” President Richard Nixon declared that war in 1971, and then President Ronald Reagan stepped it up after he took office in 1981. Incarceration grew in the United States. Between 1986 and the early 2000s, jailing of American women expanded by 400 percent and swelled by 800 percent for women of color. As of 2014, nearly a quarter of the females held in state prisons were there for drug-related offenses, versus 15.1 percent of men. Though drug use and selling occur at similar rates across racial and ethnic groups, Black and Latina women are more likely to be jailed for drug-related crimes than white women, the SOBW researchers said.

Incarceration is linked to income. A 2015 report found that jailed Black women ages 27 to 42 had much lower, pre- incarceration incomes than other same-age Black women, the SOBW researchers said. What’s more, Black women leaving prison are subject to policies affecting their finances. In many states, employers can deny jobs to anyone with a criminal record, despite skills and qualifications. And prohibitions exist on hiring ex-offenders for specific occupations, such as pharmacists and teachers.

Louisiana, however, has made some progress in the employment area. A year ago, Governor John Bel Edwards signed “ban the box” legislation so that people seeking unclassified, state jobs no longer have to disclose felony convictions on applications. In addition, Edwards on June 20 of this year signed a law partially banning the box for college admissions.

Many formerly jailed Black women are prevented from accessing safety-net supports. Drug-related felons are banned from receiving benefits under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF, though many states have opted out of imposing the ban. State and federal laws impede former inmates from finding housing, keeping custody of their children, getting student loans and voting. These barriers leave Black women released from jail and their families at risk for long-term poverty.

In a series of criminal justice reforms that became law on June 15, Governor Edwards signed legislation allowing Louisiana’s drug felons to receive food stamps and certain other welfare benefits after their release from jail. With these reforms, Edwards hopes to reduce the state’s prison population by 10 percent in the next decade.

Black women are victims of racial profiling and police brutality. Profiling contributes to a disproportionate jailing of Black females, the SOBW researchers said. While profiling of Black men gets the most attention, Black women also suffer racial disparities in stops, frisks and arrests. Police misconduct cases against women of color include officers not submitting sexual-assault kits for testing and their under-reporting of domestic violence, SOBW researchers said.

Black women are more likely than white females to be killed by the police. Black women accounted for 22.6 percent of females killed by police in 2015, though they represented 13 percent of the nation’s women.

Better data about the violent experiences suffered by Black women inside and outside the criminal justice system are needed, SOBW researchers said. Changes in arrest and other practices by the police and in sentencing policies, along with reducing barriers that freed inmates face, will help Black women released from jail care for themselves and their families.

This is the third in a series of articles on “The Status of Black Women in the United States” recent study. The first in the series, “Black women work hard but earn less than most Americans,” appeared in the June 26 – July 2, 2017 and the second, “Black women are getting healthier, but care is still a challenge” appeared in the July 3 – July 9, 2017 issue of The Louisiana Weekly.