By Oscar H. Blayton

It seems like every day we learn about another facet of the cruelty of the American criminal justice system. Ava DuVernay’s blockbuster documentary on Netflix, When They See Us, has heightened the furor over the fact that, in America, law enforcement means “control” rather than “justice” for people of color. And while the story of how the American legal system failed the Central Park Five is horrific – and for some, hard to watch – it is only one of many chapters in the saga of how this country lashes people of color with judicial oppression.

Just as we should not avert our eyes from the tragedy suffered by the Central Park Five, we should not avert our eyes from the plight of poor women of color who remain behind bars simply because they are poor.

The nonprofit organization Prison Policy Initiative has reported that almost two out of every three women in jail have not been convicted of a crime. They are incarcerated awaiting resolution of their cases.

The main reason for this startling fact is that many women are unable to raise the necessary funds for a cash bail. And this, simply put, is punishment for the “crime of poverty.”

The Prison Policy Initiative has reported that in 2015, the median income for Black women incarcerated prior to trial was $9,083, while the typical amount of bail in those instances was $10,000. It is obscene that too often bail is set at an amount greater than the annual income of a person facing a minor charge.

It is not uncommon for people of color to be sent to jail for not paying fines. And it is outrageous when those people are incarcerated for not paying fines and fees for violations that are not jailable offenses.

The threat of incarceration and, ultimately, incarceration has been used by some cities and towns strapped for money to squeeze dollars out of the most vulnerable members of their communities.

In 2015, CNN reported how the U.S. Justice Department revealed a pattern and practice of racial discrimination within Ferguson, Missouri, that targeted African American residents for tickets and fines. And when these tickets and fines went unpaid, those residents often went to jail.

Not only is this practice a grave injustice, but it inflicts wounds upon our society. The New York Review of Books reports that eight out of 10 women in jail are mothers, and most of them are single parents. There should be no need to explain how parental incarceration impacts negatively on a child. Studies by the Prison Policy Initiative have linked parental incarceration to that child’s risk of violence and victimization, as well as chronic health problems.

Incarceration can cause a woman to lose her job, lose her housing and even lose her child. Incarceration of the poor is a public policy that creates and maintains a cycle of poverty. It is well known that incarceration usually results in the loss of a job. It is less well known that incarceration often results in the loss of stable housing. In his 2016 book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, sociologist and Princeton University professor Matthew Desmond set out that, “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.” And Princeton University’s “Eviction Lab” published an online report in 2018 titled Why Eviction Matters stating that evictions “disproportionately affect low-income women, in particular women of color.”

Drilling down into this injustice, we find that, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, “[I]ncarcerated women are more likely than incarcerated men to be poor, single parents, primary caregivers, and to be victims of violence, abuse, and trauma.”

Because of policies being made by those who do not care about the plight of these victims of poverty, women now represent a higher proportion of the U.S. prison and jail populations than in the past. A May 2019 analysis of the Bureau of Justice Statistics data by essayists in the New York Review of Books reveals that in “1983, women made up just under 9 percent of people admitted to jail. By 2000, that share had grown to 15 percent; and in 2016, women comprised 23 percent of all admissions.”

Women of color work the hardest for the least amount of money, and because they have the least money, they are the most likely to be jailed for their poverty.

When America looks in the mirror, we see we are a nation that not only jails the poor for being poor, but we jail the poorest of the poor.
Is this who we want to be? Is this who we want our country to be? This nation was founded upon so many injustices, too many of which persist to this day. One of those is punishing the poor for being poor.

Gone are the days of debtors’ prisons, but imprisoning the poor is still with us. It is time to take a stand and demand that our lawmakers turn this practice into nothing more than a bad memory.

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.

Photo credit:

October 16, 2023, HOUSTON, TX – Congressional Candidate Amanda Edwards has raised over $1 million in less than 4 months, a substantial sum that helps bolster the frontrunner status of the former At-Large Houston City Council Member in her bid for U.S. Congress. Edwards raised over $433,000 in Q3 of 2023. This strong Q3 report expands on a successful Q2 where Edwards announced just 11 days after declaring her candidacy that she had raised over $600,000. With over $829,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of the September 30th financial reporting period, Edwards proves again that she is the clear frontrunner in the race. “I am beyond grateful for the strong outpouring of support that will help me to win this race and serve the incredible people of the 18th Congressional District,” said Edwards. “We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s trajectory, and we need to send servant leaders to Congress who can deliver the results the community deserves. The strong support from our supporters will help us to cultivate an 18th Congressional District where everyone in it can thrive.” Edwards said. “Amanda understands the challenges that the hard-working folks of the 18th Congressional District face because she has never lost sight of who she is or where she comes from; she was born and raised right here in the 18th Congressional District of Houston,” said Kathryn McNiel, spokesperson for Edwards’ campaign. Edwards has been endorsed by Higher Heights PAC, Collective PAC, Krimson PAC, and the Brady PAC. She has also been supported by Beto O’Rourke, among many others. About Amanda: Amanda is a native Houstonian, attorney and former At-Large Houston City Council Member. Amanda is a graduate of Eisenhower High School in Aldine ISD. Edwards earned a B.A. from Emory University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Edwards practiced law at Vinson & Elkins LLP and Bracewell LLP before entering public service. Edwards is a life-long member of St. Monica Catholic Church in Acres Homes. For more information, please visit

As September 13th rolls around, we extend our warmest birthday wishes to the creative powerhouse, Tyler Perry, a man whose indomitable spirit and groundbreaking work have left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. With his multifaceted talents as an actor, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and director, Tyler Perry has not only entertained but also inspired audiences worldwide, particularly within the African-American community, where his influence and role have been nothing short of powerful. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1969, Tyler Perry’s journey to stardom was a path riddled with adversity. Raised in a turbulent household, he found refuge in writing, using it as a therapeutic outlet. This period of introspection gave rise to one of his most iconic creations, Madea, a vivacious, no-nonsense grandmother who would later become a beloved figure in Perry’s works, offering a unique blend of humor and profound life lessons. Despite facing numerous challenges, including rejection and financial struggles, Perry’s determination and unwavering belief in his abilities propelled him forward. In 1992, he staged his first play, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” which, although met with limited success, was a pivotal moment in his career. Unfazed by initial setbacks, Perry continued to hone his craft, and by 1998, he had successfully produced a string of stage plays that showcased his storytelling prowess.

Calling all teenage student-athletes! If you have dreams of playing college soccer and wish to represent an HBCU, the HBCU ID Camp is your golden opportunity. From 8 am to 5 pm on November 11-12, Houston Sports Park will transform into a hub for aspiring male and female soccer players. Coaches from HBCUs across the nation will be present to evaluate, scout, and offer valuable feedback. Moreover, they might even spot the next soccer prodigy to join their collegiate soccer programs. This camp is not just about honing your soccer skills but also a chance to connect with the HBCU soccer community. You’ll learn the ins and outs of what it takes to excel on the field and in the classroom, which is crucial for a college athlete. The HBCU ID Camp is an excellent platform to network with coaches, learn from experienced athletes, and take the first steps toward your college soccer journey. To secure your spot at this incredible event, don’t forget to register [here](insert registration link). Space is limited to 120 participants, so make sure to reserve your place before it’s too late. It’s time to turn your dreams of playing college soccer into a reality.

Scroll to Top