A study released Wednesday found that the rate of white women in American prisons increased by more than the rate of black and Hispanic women during the first decade of the century.
The rate of incarcerated white women rose from 34 per 100,000 inmates in 2000 to 50 per 100,000 inmates in 2009, according to the study conducted by The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based reform group. The shift represents a 47 percent increase.
By contrast, the rate of incarcerated black women fell by 30 percent, from 205 per 100,000 inmates in 2000 to 142 per 100,000 inmates in 2009. Meanwhile, the rate of Hispanic women increased by 23 percent during the same timespan, from 60 per 100,000 inmates to 74 per 100,000 inmates.
"For black women, it reflects a shift in the war on drugs," Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project and the study's author, told CBS Radio News correspondent Pam Coulter. "The war on drugs disproportionately resulted in incarcerating black and Latina women."
Blacks and Hispanics still represent a majority of prison inmates overall, but economic prospects have sharply declined for less-educated white women, leaving them more vulnerable to criminal activity, Mauer told Coulter.
As a whole, the prison population grew by 71 percent in the 1990s compared to just 21 percent in the following decade as states looked for ways to trim their budgets, Coulter reports. Mauer told Coulter there's also another reason.
"I think there's a better understanding of when we need to use prisons for public safety and when we can supervise offenders in the community at less cost and often more productively," Mauer told Coulter.
Five states Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and New York had fewer people in their prisons at the end of 2010, Coulter reports.