Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 219–244 | Cite as

Race and Women’s Imprisonment: Poverty, African American Presence, and Social Welfare

  • Karen Heimer
  • Kecia R. Johnson
  • Joseph B. Lang
  • Andres F. Rengifo
  • Don Stemen
Original Paper


Female imprisonment rates have increased proportionately more than male imprisonment rates over recent decades. There are substantial race differences in women’s rates, as is the case for men. Yet, there has been little quantitative research on the correlates of women’s imprisonment using data over time, or on potential race differences in those correlates. The present research analyzes data on black and nonblack female imprisonment rates in the 50 states for the period 1981–2003. The analyses are guided substantively by existing research on race, social threat and criminal punishment, and theory and research on the penal-welfare hypothesis. The study uses bivariate-response multilevel modeling to simultaneously examine the factors associated with black and nonblack women’s imprisonment rates. The results show that black female imprisonment rates increase when the concentration of African Americans in metropolitan areas and poverty rates grow, whereas nonblack female imprisonment rates are unaffected by poverty rates and actually decrease when African American populations become more concentrated in metro areas. Both black and nonblack women’s imprisonment rates increase when welfare spending declines. The results are consistent with social threat perspectives and the penal-welfare hypotheses.


Imprisonment Gender Race Bivariate-response multilevel modeling 



The authors thank the reviewers for their helpful comments and Paige Harrison at the Bureau of Justice Statistics for making data available to us. This research benefited from the institutional support of the Public Policy Center at the University of Iowa.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Heimer
    • 1
  • Kecia R. Johnson
    • 2
  • Joseph B. Lang
    • 1
  • Andres F. Rengifo
    • 3
  • Don Stemen
    • 4
  1. 1.University of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.University at Albany, State University of New YorkAlbanyUSA
  3. 3.Rutgers UniversityNewarkUSA
  4. 4.Loyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA

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