Home > Editorial, The Industry Cosign > New Research Shows Black Women With Lighter Skin, Have Lighter Prison Sentence Than Women With Dark Skin

New Research Shows Black Women With Lighter Skin, Have Lighter Prison Sentence Than Women With Dark Skin


Many African Americans are familiar with the incessant discussion regarding light versus dark skin and the supposed advantages one may have over the other. Ever since Nella Larsen’s novella “Passing,”, in which the main character, Irene Redfield, a light-skinned African American woman passing for white, reveals the hidden implications regarding race, with respect to the perception that being white is better than black and inferior.

A new study just published in in The Social Science Journal (Volume: 48, Issue: 1, Pages: 258-250) called “The impact of light skin on prison time for black female offenders,” may add some evidence supporting the affirmation of Larsen’s premise. The study, conducted by Jill Viglione, Lance Hannon, and Robert DeFina, are researchers at Villanova University. provides strong evidence that lighter skin color is significantly correlated with a lighter prison sentence.

Based on data, collected from the records of 12,158 women incarcerated in North Carolina prisons between 1995 and 2009., inclusive of information regarding inmate hair color, eye color, height, weight, body type and skin tone (light skin tone is assigned a code of 1, and dark skin tone is assigned a code of 0), revealed that with respect to prison sentences, women noted to be of light skin were sentenced to 12% less time behind bars than their darker skinned confederates.

This finding was consistent even when controlling for prior history of incarceration, conviction date, prison misconduct, and body type. Moreover researchers also controlled for if the woman was convicted of homicide or robbery – crimes that have longer sentences. Upon which they also observed that having light skin reduces the actual time served by approximately 11%.

According to the authors as presented in the abstract, “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,” and that their findings “indicated that black women deemed to have a lighter skin tone received more lenient prison sentences and served less time behind bars.”

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  1. Michelle Knight
    July 16, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    Am I supposed to act Surprised! I’ve seen this occur for myself, as though because a woman is darker she is more prone to be a criminal &/or pose more of a threat to society if met with a lighter sentence! Sooner or later Black men as well as white people will come to see that Light-Bright-& Damn-Near-White is not all you try to make it seem!!!!!!

  1. August 8, 2011 at 10:46 AM

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