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Open Access Publications from the University of California

UCLA Journal of Gender and Law

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The Hidden Cost of Incarceration: Women of Color Pay the Price of Legislation That Allows For Exploitive Private Profits

  • Author(s): Waraich, Ayesha
  • et al.

This Article discusses the hidden costs of incarceration that most legislators, scholars, journalists, and taxpayers overlook. A recent study shows that 45 percent of Americans have or have had an immediate family member incarcerated, demonstrating that many Americans are affected by mass incarceration. The costs of incarceration of their family member’s imprisonment fall on these members specifically and their communities generally. These expenses are typically unknown by people without first-hand experience with incarceration, whether they have been or are incarcerated, or have a family member who has been or is incarcerated. I will use my first-hand experience to explore the costs—what they are, why they exist, and who pays them.

Further, this Article draws a link between the War on Drugs—which was designed to impact and did impact mostly people ofcolor—to the identity of the people who pay the costs. The Article also connects further links the War on Drugs, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the Three Strikes law and how these three features of our criminal justice system work together to be the largest contributors to the systemic incarceration of people of color, particularly men. In fact, the supposed connection between minorities, drugs, and crimes became the highlight for President Reagan’s War on Drugs, with a clear undertone of racial regime. Near-hysteria around the War on Drugs prompted Congress to pass mandatory minimum sentencing, which subjected Brown and Black men to long prison terms and created an unprecedented rise in America’s prison population. The ripple effects of this racial rhetoric have continued to impact people of color at rates disproportionate to their white counterparts, as the realities of incarceration and the nature of the costs have severe consequences for many communities of color.

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