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How Passing the ERA Would Benefit Black Women with Incarcerated Family Members 

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Passing of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been a struggle for almost a century now. Sage Howard, writing for Women’s eNews, draws the connection between yet another women’s rights issue that the ERA would help to combat: the financial burden placed on women to pay the costs of their incarcerated family members. According to Howard, this burden is heavy especially on black women “since their family members are five times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.”

A study of San Quentin State Prison in California showed that the majority of the women with family members serving time spent a third of their annual incomes to maintain contact with incarcerated family members, and these costs many times forced these women to declare bankruptcy. The study found that mothers represented “almost half of family members primarily responsible for paying court-related expenses,” a burden that forces them to make the difficult choice between helping incarcerated family members and providing basic necessities for their families who are outside.

By fighting gender-based discrimination, the ERA would indirectly help in combatting race-based discrimination by ensuring that women of all races have rights to earnings equal to those of the highest income earners in the US, white, non-Hispanic men. Howard states, “For women of color, the financial load that comes with supporting a loved one in prison is often amplified by the reality that there is no Equal Rights Amendment in the US Constitution.”

Howard  outlines the steps that would have to be taken for the ratification of the ERA. Waiting for a two-thirds state majority (38 states) to ratify the amendment, the three-state strategy has been developed. Since 1972, 35 states have ratified the ERA, meaning two things: three more states need to adopt the amendment, and Congress needs to vote on extending the time limit placed on it. If passed, the ERA would be a cornerstone in expanding the rights of women, lifting the fight for equal pay to a new level.

Coverage of political battles over the ERA’s ratification has been expansive, but the angles reported by Sage Howard for Women’s eNews—highlighting how the ERA could reduce economic burdens on the families of incarcerated people—have been overlooked in corporate news coverage.

Source: Sage Howard “On the Outside of Incarceration: The Need for the ERA”, Women’s eNews, November 29, 2018, https://womensenews.org/2018/11/on-the-outside-of-incarceration-the-need-for-the-era/.

Student Researcher: Juweria Mehtar (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)

Daniel Christof

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