Michigan's, Jail, conditions, inhumane

New Film Sheds Light On How The War On Drugs Continues To Increase Black Women’s Prison Population

A new BET+ film tells the real-life story of one woman who fell victim to the draconian laws that fuel America's War on Drugs.

A new film is coming to BET+ that tells the real-life story of a woman who fell victim to the Draconian laws that fuel America’s War on Drugs and the continued rise of the Black women’s prison population.

Kelley Kali’s Kemba premieres on BET+ on Feb. 22. The made-for-TV movie tells the true story of Kemba Smith, a woman who is charged as a co-conspirator of her college boyfriend’s drug-trafficking crimes and sentenced to 24 and a half years in federal prison despite being seven months pregnant, Yahoo News reports.

Smith was a sheltered college student who had never gotten into any legal trouble and never sold or used drugs. She was, however, a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend, Peter Hall. Despite her clean record, federal prosecutors charged her with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and in 1994, she was sentenced to nearly 25 years without the possibility of parole.

Seven months pregnant, a victim of domestic violence, and a nonviolent drug offender, Smith’s case revealed the arbitrary and unjust character of federal mandatory sentencing guidelines that prevented federal judges from taking the unique circumstances of each accused individual into account, as noted by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The Legal Defense Fund (LDF) eventually got involved with Smith’s case after learning about the many injustices she suffered. In 2000, LDF successfully obtained clemency for Smith after she served six and a half years of her prison sentence.

But even in the 24 years since her release, statistics show Black women are still incarcerated on drug charges at alarming rates. According to The Sentencing Project, the number of incarcerated women has risen 525% between 1980 and 2021.

An April 2023 study credited the continued rise in the women’s prison population to “more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to re-entry that uniquely affect women.” The numbers are more staggering when looking at the population of Black women in prison. A 2020 census found that while Black women comprise just 7.7% of the total U.S. population and 15.3% of the population of women, they still make up 29% of incarcerated women.

The LDF remains committed to collaborating with Smith and the Kemba Smith Foundation to bring attention to crucial matters within the criminal justice system. Smith’s book Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story recounts her harrowing journey through domestic abuse, injustice, disenfranchisement, and the challenges of re-entering society. Kemba will be available to stream on BET+ on Feb. 22, 2024.