Unlocking Discrimination

I first heard about the Netflix series Orange is the New Black while watching Melissa Harris-Perry
interview actress Laverne Cox. Cox made a compelling case for the series, and I was soon hooked
on the show. As it did for many others, the show humanized for me the hundreds of thousands
of women incarcerated in prisons and jails around the country. It also drove home the point that
racial disparities in the criminal legal system burden women (not just men) of color. Finally, through
its artful storytelling and intricate backstories, it helped me to understand the experiences of many
women prior to incarceration. Since then, I’ve encountered research that supports narratives I first
encountered through the show.1

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that as many as 100 million U.S. adults have some sort of
criminal record. The increase in women in prison far outpaces the rate of increase of men in prison
over the last four decades, and African American women are imprisoned at more than twice the rate
of white women. In the recent years, there has been an increased focus on the ongoing collateral
consequences of interaction with the criminal legal system, whether through arrest, conviction, and/
or incarceration. One oft cited collateral consequence is housing stability.

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