Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers

UCLA Law Review Vol. 59, p. 1474, 2012

28 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2012 Last revised: 10 Feb 2013

See all articles by Dorothy E. Roberts

Dorothy E. Roberts

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: August 1, 2012


This article is part of a UCLA Law Review symposium, “Overpoliced and Underprotected: Women, Race, and Criminalization.” It analyzes how the U.S. prison and foster care systems work together to punish black mothers in a way that helps to preserve race, gender, and class inequalities in a neoliberal age. The intersection of these systems is only one example of many forms of overpolicing that overlap and converge in the lives of poor women of color. I examine the statistical overlap between the prison and foster care populations, the simultaneous explosion of both systems in recent decades, the injuries that each system inflicts on black communities, and the way in which their intersection in the lives of black mothers helps to make social inequities seem natural. I hope to elucidate how state mechanisms of surveillance and punishment function jointly to penalize the most marginalized women in our society while blaming them for their own disadvantaged positions.

Keywords: Civil rights, criminal law and procedure, family law, rights of women and minors, child welfare, sentencing law, racial disproportionality and inequality, child protection policies, jail, preference for adoption, termination of parental rights

Suggested Citation

Roberts, Dorothy E., Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers (August 1, 2012). UCLA Law Review Vol. 59, p. 1474, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Dorothy E. Roberts (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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