For many Americans, the Netflix hit series “Orange Is the New Black” was their first introduction to the inner world of female incarceration. The show is loosely based on the true story of Piper Kerman, who was imprisoned for money laundering and drug trafficking and later published a memoir about her experiences. It touches upon sexual assault in prison, the haphazard use of solitary confinement and the shackling of pregnant woman — all very real problems polluting the present state of female penitentiaries.
However, after sifting through the most recent data on female incarceration across the nation, we learned the reality is far worse.
The rate of female incarceration in America is growing at an alarming rate. The number of children with a mother in prison doubled between 1991 and 2007. Most states in the U.S. still allow the shackling of pregnant prisoners while in labor, and the brutal practice persists even in states that have passed laws prohibiting it. In addition, more than 8 percent of female inmates have reported incidents of sexual victimization by prison staff or fellow inmates.
According to the Bureau of Justice statistics (BJS) the total female prison population in 2011 was 1,598,780. The total number of Black women in prison in 2011 was 23% of the total female prison population.
But, the rate of imprisonment for Black women was 129/1000 or 3% (this figure is .05% for White women). The Black women’s rate is 6 times higher than for White women. Although we have seen some decline in the numbers (16% from 2000 -2007), but the fact still remains that 1 in 100 African American women are in prison.
The reasons Black women are in prison are 33% for violent offenses, 67% for drugs (approximately 25% of the total), property crimes, and public order crimes (DUI, etc).
So before we rejoice in prison culture, let us remember our sisters who are mothers, aunts, friends and grandmothers. They are not forgotten and we fight to keep the next generation of young women out of the system.