The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Black Women in Prison for Life

Oct 11, 2021

Michigan has 31 prisons, but only one is a woman-only correctional facility. An organization called The Sentencing Project did a study looking at women in the U.S. serving life without parole (LWOP). In the whole U.S., Michigan has one of the highest percentages of black women serving that kind of life sentence.

The study’s lead researcher points out, "A majority of the women [facing extreme sentencing] have endured sexual and/or domestic violence, and the legal system has consistently failed to take their experiences into account." Often a husband or romantic partner coerces involvement in a crime, but so-called tough-on-crime laws require mandatory sentences. So, women often face harsh punishments for minor roles "where laws require identical punishments for all defendants regardless of their role in the crime."

The new study found that one in four women sentenced to life in Michigan played only a minor role. A sentence of life without parole means the women usually die in prison. In Michigan, in general, black women serving life terms were very young when sentenced. More than one-third of women serving a life sentence have attempted suicide.

Other studies have shown that between 40 to 80% of women convicted of murder acted in self-defense against an abuser. Such women rarely have criminal histories. While only four percent of murdered men are killed by female partners, one-third of murdered women are killed by male partners. Women’s need for self-defense is a matter of life and death, not that the capitalists’ legal system cares.

Black women face double oppression by racism and sexism. Add to that the class oppression of the so-called justice system that criminalizes poor and working people. Study authors plead for criminal justice reform. But a society that so casually condemns abused women to the death sentence of life in prison is a system that itself should be buried.