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The 1980s and 1990s have witnessed an explosion in the population of women prisoners in Europe, North America, and Australasia, accompanied by a boom in prison construction. This article argues that this new pattern of women's incarceration has been forged by three overlapping phenomena. The first is the fundamental shift in the role of the state that has occurred as a result of neo-liberal globalization. The second and related phenomenon is the emergence and subsequent global expansion of what has been labelled a 'prison industrial complex' made up of an intricate web of relations between state penal institutions, politicians and profit-driven prison corporations. The third is the emergence of a US-led global war on drugs which is symbiotically related and mutually constituted by the transnational trade in criminalized drugs. These new regimes of accumulation and discipline, I argue, build on older systems of racist and patriarchal exploitation to ensure the super-exploitation of black women within the global prison industrial complex. The article calls for a new anti-racist feminist analysis that explores how the complex matrix of race, class, gender and nationality meshes with contemporary globalized geo-political and economic realities. The prison industrial complex plays a critical role in sustaining the viability of the new global economy and black women are increasingly becoming the raw material that fuels its expansion and profitability. The article seeks to reveal the profitable synergies between drug enforcement, the prison industry, international financial institutions, media and politicians that are sending women to prison in ever increasing numbers.


This article was originally published in Feminist Review, 2002, No. 70, Globalization, pp. 57-74.