Beaten by the System and Down for the Count: Why Poor Women of Color & Children Don't Stand a Chance Against U.S. Drug Sentencing Policy
University of St. Thomas School of Law
University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Vol. 3, p. 464, 2006
U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-24
This article argues that current drug-sentencing laws and policies disparately impact poor women of color and children. I will illustrate this disparate impact in three distinct ways. First, I show how the war on drugs disparately impacts women of color who are peripherally involved in drug-trafficking activity. I highlight the story of Kemba Smith, a young African-American mother who was sentenced to 24.5 years in prison for tangential involvement in drug-trafficking activity and was subsequently granted executive clemency by President Clinton in 2000. Second, I show how racially-charged drug enforcement policies impact poor women of color and children. Namely, I focus on the disparate impact that occurs when drugs known to be used by poor women of color, such as crack-cocaine, become the focus of law enforcement policies that target pregnant women who use drugs. I also show how the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997, along with misguided child protection policies, thwarts attempts at familial reunification and opens the door to long-term placements in the foster care system for poor children of color. Lastly, I describe how federal legislation such as welfare reform, lifetime bans on public housing program participation, and denial of federal financial aid to persons convicted of drug offenses serve to bolster the rate of recidivism and ensnare poor women of color and children in a perpetual cycle of crippling poverty and incarceration.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 36
Keywords: War on drugs, criminal sentencing, sentencing law, race and law, family law, child protection policies
Date posted: July 14, 2006