June 4, 2011
LIGHTER SKIN REDUCES PRISON TIME AMONG BLACK WOMEN
The Sentencing Project
A recent study, “The Impact of Light Skin on Prison Time for Black Female Offenders,” by Jill Viglione, Lance Hannon, and Robert DeFina of Villanova University assesses how perceived skin tone is related to the maximum prison sentence and time served for a sample of over 12,158 black women imprisoned in North Carolina between 1995 and 2009. The authors controlled for factors such as prior record, conviction date, prison misconduct, and being thin, as well as whether the woman was convicted of homicide or robbery since these crimes usually carry lengthy prison sentences. With regard to prison sentences, their results indicated that women deemed to have light skin are sentenced to approximately 12% less time behind bars than their darker skinned counterparts. The results also show that having light skin reduces the actual time served by approximately 11%.
The authors conclude by urging people to understand that it is not sufficient to understand racial discrimination in terms of relative advantages of whites compared to non-whites. Among blacks, characteristics associated with whiteness appear to also have a significant impact on important life outcomes.
Viglione, Jill, Lance Hannon, and Robert DeFina. 2011. “The Impact of Light Skin on Prison Time for Black Female Offenders.” The Social Science Journal, 48:250-258.