Sexism in the Drug War

We examine the reasons behind the rise of the fastest growing prison population in the US.

One glance at the mass of black and brown faces locked in prison on nonviolent drug charges and it’s clear that the so-called War on Drugs has deep roots in racism. But what about the drug war’s impact on gender? While not as widely discussed as racism, sexism infiltrates every aspect of drug policy, even within the reform movement itself, impacting how women who use drugs are viewed, treated and punished.

Women are currently the fastest growing segment of the U.S. prison population. According to the ACLU report “Caught in the Net,” over the past three decades, the number of females in prison has increased at twice the rate of their male counterparts—even more so for women of color. From 1977 to 2007, the female prison population grew by 832%, while the male population grew by 416%. Two-thirds of these women are serving time for nonviolent offenses and more than three-quarters are mothers.

The staggering increase in the number of women in prison does not reflect larger numbers of women using drugs, but rather, changes in criminal sentencing. Many of the women in prison are there for co-habitating with a boyfriend or husband who committed drug offenses in the home. Women who refuse to testify against a partner could face conspiracy charges on top of the drug charges, in many cases causing them to serve longer sentences than the partner who actually committed the crime.

Women who don’t serve prison time for a partner’s offense are often left behind as sole caretakers of the next generation. When men come out of prison, dehumanized, angry, and unable to get decent jobs due to criminal records, they re-enter households dominated by women, who now have an extra mouth to feed and a potentially volatile situation on their hands.

“Men come back from prison with trauma and not much marketability because employers won’t hire formerly incarcerated people,” says Xochitl Bervera, co-director of the Racial Justice Action Center in Georgia. The R.J. Action Center runs a program organizing currently and formerly incarcerated women to reduce the number of women in jails and prisons.

– Read the entire article at The Fix.