An extensive new research study provides compelling evidence that lighter skin color is strongly associated with receiving a lighter prison sentence. The research is presented in a new article called, “The impact of light skin on prison time for black female offenders,” and is published in The Social Science Journal (Volume: 48, Issue: 1, Pages: 258-250). The study’s authors, Jill Viglione, Lance Hannon, and Robert DeFina, are researchers at Villanova University.
photo credit: Thiago Souto
To conduct this study, the researchers examined the records of 12,158 women incarcerated in North Carolina prisons between 1995 and 2009. The North Carolina Department of Corrections tracks certain information about each inmate to faciliate prisoner identification. This information includes inmate hair color, eye color, height, weight, and body build. Most relevant to this study, skin tone is also recorded. Light skin tone is assigned a code of 1, and dark skin tone is assigned a code of 0.
Using statistical analysis, researchers were able to “control for” (or, hold constant) 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 indicate 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 study confirms other research that shows similar results for Black men, that is, that the lighter skin color, the lighter prison sentences (e.g., Gyimah-Brempong, K. and Price, G. N., “Crime and Punishment: And Skin Hue Too?” American Economic Review, (2006), 96; 2, pages 246-250).
This research also also confirms the common knowledge in much of the black community about lighter skin color. When Harry Reid “inartfully” pointed out that Obama had a better chance at being elected to high office because of his lighter skin, it was Colin Powell who agreed with Reid.
The reality is that lighter skin color makes navigating a racist society easier.