Determinants of Racial Disparities in Female Incarceration Rates, 2000–2018

Samuel L. Myers, William J. Sabol, Man Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, the National Research Council documents the large and persistent racial disparities in imprisonment that accompanied the more than quadrupling of the U.S. incarceration rate since the 1980s. Largely unnoticed by policy makers and opinion leaders in recent years is an unprecedented decrease in the number of African American women incarcerated at the same time that the number of white women in prison has grown to new heights. The result of these recent changes is a near convergence in black-white female incarceration rates from 2000 to 2016. In some states, the changes occurred abruptly and almost instantaneously. In other states, the convergence has been gradual. We find that changes in the population composition—the fraction of the population that is black—was the major contributor to the decline in the disparity among women. We also find that race-specific differences in drug overdose deaths stemming from the recent increases in opioid use lowered the disparity by increasing the white female imprisonment rate and lowering it for black women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-402
Number of pages22
JournalReview of Black Political Economy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • Incarceration
  • black females
  • racial disparities
  • white females


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