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Study confirms dark-skinned women get longer prison sentences

By Kase Wickman
Tuesday, July 5, 2011 13:12 EDT
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A recent study of females convicted of crimes showed a disheartening correlation that would confirm accusations of racial injustice in the legal system: The lighter a convict’s skin, the shorter their prison sentence tends to be, and the less time they serve.

Researchers at Villanova University examined the records of more than 12,000 women in North Carolina prisons to come to these results, TheRoot.com reported. The study was published recently in The Social Science Journal.

Light-skinned women were sentenced to an average of 12 percent less time than their darker-skinned peers, and served an average of 11 percent less time in jail, the study found. The researchers used similar crimes to compare sentences, so that they could generate the most accurate, relevant results.

The study, called “The Impact of Light Skin on Prison Time for Black Female Offenders,” is part of a larger effort called The Sentencing Project, which has long examined the interactions of the justice system and race.

According to the summary on The Sentencing Project’s website, the study provides a much-needed nuance. Discrimination is not as simple as black and white, but, “among blacks, characteristics associated with whiteness appear to also have a significant impact on important life outcomes.”

A 2006 University of Georgia study of light-skinned versus dark-skinned black men showed that the light-skinned men had an advantage when applying for jobs, regardless of past experience and credentials.

A 2009 York University study published in Science found that many people unconsciously harbor racist attitudes and behaviors.

“Justice is not blind, in fact, it’s more accurate to describe justice as nearsighted,” said Lance Hannon, a sociology professor at Villanova and one of the prison study’s co-authors.

“Justice is too often decided by one’s ability to sympathize with a defendant or crime victim. Sympathy, in turn, is often the product of larger social forces like segregation and media depictions of certain groups. Among blacks, characteristics associated with whiteness appear to have a significant impact on important life outcomes, such as the amount of time one spends in jail.”

Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
 
 
 
 
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