The impact of light skin on prison time for black female offenders

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There is a long history of social science research on the importance of race for determining life outcomes. However, there are relatively few social science studies on the importance of skin tone within racial groups. Some recent research has documented the quantifiable advantages associated with having a lighter skin shade, particularly in terms of occupational attainment and earnings among blacks. A handful of studies focusing on black men have also suggested that when authorities perceive offenders as having a lighter skin shade it translates into more lenient criminal justice outcomes. The present analysis extends this line of inquiry by examining how perceived skin tone (assessed by correctional officers) is related to maximum prison sentence and actual time served for over 12,000 black women imprisoned in North Carolina between 1995 and 2009. Controlling for several factors, the results indicated that black women deemed to have a lighter skin tone received more lenient prison sentences and served less time behind bars. © 2010 Western Social Science Association.




Viglione, J., Hannon, L., & DeFina, R. (2011). The impact of light skin on prison time for black female offenders. Social Science Journal, 48(1), 250–258.

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