Introduction From the 1970s onwards, the American government conducted a war on drugs that theyexported internationally. Reports, ran by the press, started targeting Hispanic and African-Caribbean communities as the importers of crack in the US and the UK. «In the US, Latinas and African-American women make up 60% of the female prisonpopulation» (Sudbury 2002, p:60). This is what Julia Sudbury wrote, in 2002, in her articleabout women of colour in the prison industrial complex. Through interviews of imprisonedwomen, Sudbury set the landscape of black women in the prison system by presentingdifferent stories of women who became drug mules by necessity (economic needs), force(threats and coercion) or deception and were sentenced to prison for as long as 25 yearseven though they only played a secondary role in the drug trade.
As accurate as Sudbury is in her analysis of the imprisonment of women of colour, thiscritical review will highlight the fact that she only focuses on one aspect of the problem.Although it is true that women of colour often face drug-related charges, it is not the onlykind of charges that can lead them, more than white women, to prison. This critical reviewwill, consequently, also focus on prostitution charges that women of colour face, especiallyin the US where prostitution is, to this date, still illegal. Analysis of Julia Sudbury’s article The aim of Sudbury’s article is to highlight the overrepresentation of women and especiallywomen of colour in the prison industrial complex. And with the testimonies and statisticsshe gathered, we can clearly see a pattern appear based on racism and sexism. Drugtraffickers use women as drug mules because they believe that police and customs authorities will less likely control women and even if it is the case, they believe that judges 2 will be more lenient towards them ; leaving out the fact that they also are ‘of colour’, which,in our society, means ‘non-white’. As such, discrimination and racism prevents them fromreceiving the lenient sentences usually given to white women in similar situations.
As aconsequence, more women of colour end up in prison and for longer periods of time thanwhite women (Institute of Race Relations, 2017). Statistics show that the imprisonmentrate of African American women was twice that of white women in 2014 (The SentencingProject, 2015). Around the same year, in the UK, for every 100 white women imprisonedfor a drug offense, 227 black women were imprisoned for a similar offense (Brinkhurst-Cuffet al., 2017). In her article, Sudbury focuses a lot on the US and the UK, but leaves out the rest of theworld. She couldn’t, obviously, have tackled this subject without mentioning the USbecause the war on drugs from the American government has «always been a deeplyracialized project» (Ritchie, 2017) dating back to 1875, when San Fransisco passed thefirst drug law forbidding ‘opium dens’ (establishments where one could consume opium)which were deeply associated with Chinese immigrants although opium was widelyconsumed by white Americans (Ritchie, 2017).
Moreover, the US holds 21% of theprisoners worldwide although it represents only 5% of the world’s population (NAACP,2015). What would have been a great addition is a comparison between her foundings, in the USand the UK, and other countries such as Spain, for example. While the female prisonpopulation of the US and the UK represent respectively 9% and 5%, Spain’s female prisonpopulation represents 7.7% according to the last edition of the World FemaleImprisonment List.
In 2014, a journalist, Alex Dunham, wrote that drug-related charges arethe predominant cause for women’s imprisonment in Spain and that many of them are 3 foreigners who were arrested at airports while working as mules. But Spain, the UK andthe US are not the only countries to have witnessed a rise in the number of incarceratedwomen in the past decade ; still according to the World Female Imprisonment List,Germany and Portugal represent 5.9%, Austria 6% and Canada 10,6%, just to name afew. Only statistics from western countries (North America and Europe) are relevant herebecause Julia Sudbury focuses her article on the overrepresentation of women of colour inprisons as a consequence of racism and the term ‘of colour’ refers to everybody who isn’twhite, as such only countries with a predominantly white population are relevant here. Another factor that was missing in this article is prostitution. Drug offenses are not the onlyoffenses for which black women are more often incarcerated than white women. In a paperwritten in 2014 regarding disparities in the enforcement of prostitution laws, Mariah Woodstated that prostitution was still considered a crime in almost every state in the US.
Assuch, it can still lead women to prison. And black women are more easily trapped in thesex industry because racism limits their educational and professional opportunities. But itgoes further than that, it is also more difficult for a black woman to get out of prostitutionthan for a white woman. A report written by Vednita Nelson in 1993 stated that blackwomen had to pay higher fines and did more jail time than white women. In a more recentstudy conducted in three cities of North Carolina, data showed that, in 2010, thepercentage of black prostitutes arrested was two to three times higher than both thepercentage of ads for black escorts and the percentage of black women in the cities’population themselves (Wood, 2014). 4 Conclusion The United Kingdom based its prison system on the American model which means that theBritish government privatized its prisons and applied a neo-liberal politic where every effortis put towards achieving the target and proving to be more efficient rather than moreeffective.
In my opinion, governments and prisons’ owners forgot to consider that we aredealing with human beings and not christmas toys. Moreover, we, as a nation, forgot that prison was invented to punish, yes, but also andmore importantly, to rehabilitate. And since its creation it has only done one thing and thatis to seperate the offenders from the rest of the population. Those prisoners are thenforever seen as criminals. And as effective as it may be for some aweful crimes, it preventssmall-time offenders from ever rehabilitating into society.
Furthermore, as people of colourare more likely to be arrested than white people, it creates a gap in society that keeps itfrom moving past the racist history of North America and Europe. To sum up, in her article, Julia Sudbury presented stories of women who had to survive ina white-supremacist culture while being black and in a male-supremacist culture whilebeing a woman. It is a two-dimensional problem where the principal factors are racism andsexism, both family heirloom (Francisco R., 2013) that we have passed down forgenerations. But when will it end ?