Researcher ORCID Identifier

Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Studies

Second Department


Reader 1

Rachel VanSickle-Ward

Reader 2

Linus Yamane

Reader 3

William Barndt

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2021 Becca S Zimmerman


This thesis investigates the unique interactions between pregnancy, substance involvement, and race as they relate to the War on Drugs and the hyper-incarceration of women. Using ordinary least square regression analyses and data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, I examine if (and how) pregnancy status, drug use, race, and their interactions influence two length of incarceration outcomes: sentence length and amount of time spent in jail between arrest and imprisonment. The results collectively indicate that pregnancy decreases length of incarceration outcomes for those offenders who are not substance-involved but not evenhandedly -- benefitting white pregnant offenders more than their Black counterparts. Similarly, any incarceration length leniency resulting from pregnancy does not apply uniformly once substance involvement is factored in: while pregnant, white, substance-involved offenders spend less time incarcerated than their nonpregnant, non-substance-involved white counterparts, they often received longer incarceration outcomes than those who were pregnant, white, and not substance-involved. The analyses reveal similar patterns among Black offenders, but the sentencing disparities associated with pregnancy and substance involvement are magnified: the results indicate that not only does substance involvement increase incarceration length among pregnant Black offenders, but several model specifications demonstrated that Black offenders who are both pregnant and substance-involved receive harsher sentencing outcomes and more jail time than their nonpregnant, non-substance-involved Black counterparts. These findings indicate that, despite a public departure from its most attention-grabbing components, the War on Drugs has contributed to a carceral system that disproportionately harms women -- especially Black women -- who are substance-involved and pregnant. The concluding analysis of my results underscores the unique intersections between the criminal justice and public health crises created by this “war” and implications for the populations most affected.

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