More black men in jail or college? An old “fact” revisited

We always hear about the disproportionate number of blacks in prison, but I’ve always wondered: how many are incarcerated and what does that really mean? What I didn’t realize is how difficult it is to pin down a precise number. I mean, true, it doesn’t take too much to find out that black men are incarcerated at a rate six and a half times higher than white men. That’s easily available through the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. But ever since the Justice Policy Institute released a report in 2002 stating that there were more black men in jail than college, people have just ran with the numbers. Even President Obama did it. That study, however, quoted figures from 10 years ago and, surprisingly, the number of blacks in prison has actually declined. And I haven’t been able to find anything recent that concretely dispels the myth, only skeptics that point to the fact that the saying is a myth. So I decided to do my own update to see if the old saying is still true.


There you have it.

77 thoughts on “More black men in jail or college? An old “fact” revisited

  1. So if they commit the crime why should they not do the time? It is impossible to remove the responsibility of the action from the criminal. This is a country and legal system that was founded on personal responsibility that provided the privilege of the opportunity to pursue your hopes.

  2. the question is why did they do the crime. what lack of resources led one down this path? HOW COULD THIS HAVE BEEN PREVENTED? Black men are singled out. WAKE UP AMERICA!…

  3. Jeez…doesn’t anyone do math? The number in jail or prison is just a little bit less than those in college. It’s still outrageous.

    The FACT is that approximately 1 out of 3 black males will spend time in jail or prison SOMETIME IN THEIR LIFETIMES. That is an outrageous statistic.

    As far as the stupid comments about “do the crime, do the time,” why don’t you check out statistics (especially, for instance, in Brooklyn) regarding the numbers of illegal search and seizure as well as planting drug evidence.

    Ask yourselves: would YOU like to have been born black in America? Or anywhere?

    God have mercy.

  4. I get it that lots of Amaricans want to gloss over the fact that the ONLY reason Blacks are incarcirated at such a high rate is because they are guilty of crimes! There is no large or population of Blacks anywhere in the world that doesn’t also have a high crime rate. This is not just an Amarican problem. Personally, I don’t see that the hard numbers truly “dispell” anything. Saying that slightly more Black men are enrolled in Collage, than are enrolled in the justice system, does little to “dispell” the FACT that Black culture produces a high rate of criminal activity, world wide! And when regergitating the numbers, why is there no call to action for the Black community? Stop complaining that Blacks are dissinfranchized by being incarcirated for crimes they have commited. Regardless of how liberal one is, you still don’t much care why the criminal is victimizing you, and if it just so happens they are Black, you want them off the streets and out of your community. Blacks commit violet crimes at a much higher rate than whites. You can argue the reasons why, but it doesn’t change the facts. Stop complaining, and get the Black community to deal with there responsibility in creating this situation in there communities everywhere in the world.

  5. Excuse me, but you sound just as ignorant as the individuals who believe that America is now in a post-racism state. Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions, but those who ORIGINALLY created this problem need to take responsibility as well, and assist in fixing it. What you don’t seem to understand is that the GLOBAL Black community DID NOT create the situations that it is forced to deal with. Please tell me how you expect a people who are stereotyped, falsely accused and convicted, and ,more often than you may witness in your own pristine communities, assaulted and harassed by a judicial system, that operates as a mechanism of disenfranchisement, to properly and effectively DEAL with the issues of underdevelopment? African American communities are continually subjected to schools that are unequal in the quality of education offered to its students. African American communities are continually underdeveloped, causing its occupants to spend money shopping in other communities and not their own, which in turn aids to that community’s development. The so called “War on Drugs” was bull. Common sense would have directed any REAL efforts to aim for the heads of drug distributions. Instead, it targeted small-time dealers in Black communities who where fiscally incapable of any detrimental scale importation or distribution. Its only goal, for those of you who are cognitively challenged, was the social control of African Americans. Incarceration effectively mimics American Slavery in that it: strips individuals of their Rights to Vote and make decisions on issues affecting their communities (schooling, community developments, funding, security…etc.), it legalizes discrimination allowing denial for jobs, housing, school entrance, educational funding, etc. even for petty crimes like public urination as a teen, or looting food like during Katrina (“Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” is on every job & even some housing applications, & it bares NO REGARD to the severity, or lack thereof, of the crime), it divides families, it produces MILLIONS in revenue for prison owners (paid with our tax dollars for so called “REHABILITATION”), castrates men (they can not protect their family from home intrusion since they loose their right to bare arms, and they can not support a family since they can not find jobs), and lastly it creates repeat offenders given that many turn back to criminal activity AS A MEANS OF INCOME TO SUPPORT THEIR FAMILIES since NO ONE WILL GIVE THEM A JOB!….Sounds like NEO-SLAVERY to me! Again, please tell me how you would suggest that the Global BLACK community FIX problems that started nearly 400 yrs ago? How should the BLACK community go about changing the greedy, inhumane, morally compromised, & materialistic, ideals and thought processes of the individuals that actually created this problem, and still propagate it today? When will AMERICA WAKE UP, and truly operate as one country, one people? Strip the world of all color, and you’ll still have BLACK…. And regardless of religious beliefs, we were created EQUAL, equally unique with different talents, skin tones, cognitive abilities, etc… yet still equal: 10 finger, 10 toes, 2 eyes, 1 nose, 23 chromosomes = male or female… NOT BLACK OR WHITE.

  6. The difference between those in college and those incarcerated is less than 100,000. I’m willing to bet that if you actually accounted for those who are actually passing their classes, it would be much smaller. Either way, only 32% of black males in their 20s attend college.

    “Blacks commit violet crimes at a much higher rate than whites. You can argue the reasons why, but it doesn’t change the facts.”

    That is completely true. You demand to know the reason, and even reached a conclusion that it’s because they’re being singled out. You want to desperately believe that blacks are not perpetuating a violent culture, and that it’s the “systems” fault.

    So when a mob of black men beat up on white families for no reason, your inclination is to find out why they did it rather than punish them for it? If they are punished, than you wonder if it’s because the police, judge, or jury were racist?

    Delusion is bliss, but won’t save you.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to respond and presenting much needed information.

  8. Thanks for your own effort on this web page. My daughter take interest in setting aside time for investigation and it’s easy to see why. My partner and i hear all relating to the compelling method you deliver powerful tips through the web site and even boost participation from people on that article so my princess is actually discovering a lot of things. Take advantage of the rest of the new year. Your conducting a terrific job.

  9. For me it doesn’t matter black, white, green, red, or yellow, a human being is a human being because it’s not because there are more black people in prison than college no one is perfect on this earth it’s about the education and the way the person is raised and where the person was raised(bad or good environment, good or bad people) everything start at home before it hits outside the compound. I know some black people who are succeeded and progressed in their lifetimes without the criminal background, always pay the bills on time, living the life into the positive path, life is full of choices and each chose there is always a consequence to assume. I think you should watch the new movie of Denzel Washington ”Safe House” and you will understand the meaning of how you make a choice in life. It depends how you educate your children to make positive choices and give them good inspiration about the daily life, not doing drugs, marijuana or illegal activities because it doesn’t lead nowhere but disaster.

  10. Figures do’nt lie but lie’rs figure!!!!
    Note the number of black men in college is estimated, however the number of blacks in prison is an exact number that can be verified!!!

  11. This article is wrong wrong wrong. The author should research more in depth before posting stuff like this online. I am the author of the book “WHY ARE SO MANY BLACK MEN IN PRISON?”, and in my book this topic is broken down to the last compound. First, the numbers the government gives for black males in prison do not include juveniles. And they are based upon ONE DAY WITHIN A YEAR numbers. Also, the numbers the government gives for black men in college include those that are NOT residing on campuses, includes those that do not finish, and also includes those who are in trade schools and such. Tell you what: Name me a mainstream university that is comprised of mostly black males. I can name you HUNDREDS if not THOUSANDS of prisons and jails that are comprised of majority black males.

    In short, don’t believe everything the government says about black people. It seems that blacks should have learned that lesson a long time ago. (sigh)

  12. There is a method behind this madness of reporting bad information about Black men,and that is MONEY. First of all Black men are the most studied, analyzed, poked, and disected race of men on the planet. Second, there is no MONEY in good news about Black men, or Black people. In order to generate an interest, thus resultng in the generation of funding, you have got to identify a problem. Whether it is accurate or not is not a factor.

  13. @ JAB-

    Thank you for bringing to light the multi-faceted face of systematic racism, historic aspects that cannot and should not be ignored when looking at such social constructions (i.e. race, class, and gender), and succinctly speaking of most factors surrounding African American prison culture and college culture. Quite eloquently and accurately stated! I also agree that the previous comments you responded to are certainly indicative of a post-racism state of mind. It amazes me how just because we have SOME laws to eliminate SOME egregiously obvious oppression, there are still people who believe themselves (and the US at large)to now be “color-blind”. They believe this in part because marketing and commodification have taken stereotypical images, products and vernacular and transformed them into homogenized racism; thus causing folks additionally “buy” into the ideology that racism against people of Color (especially Blacks)is “a thing of the past”. Unfortunately, it is alive and kicking in both the USA and across the globe. Statistics are a funny thing: we all want a number to point to for either proof of change / progress or sometimes even proof of stagnation (so we can point a finger of blame and say “there”). But life is never that over simplified- it is complex- a rich tapestry of factors- woven through with experiences, ideas, and praxis. Thank you for such a richly complex answer to a richly complex issue 🙂

  14. I really think that the big problem here is that for the most part blacks get pulled over more than whites, dont have no money to pay for a lawyer so they get a retarded public defender, and often mess up once inside prison by fightin and get longer sentences.

    I dont think its the blacks fault for being in jail as much as it is the system and being broke that is keeping them down. To me a better idea than just locking all of these people up is to legalize weed and not lock up people just for getting high. Since so many black men are in jail for selling crack, maybe we should legalize that too because at least then there would be less drive bys and gangs.

  15. I call bullshit… This statement says that half of all back men in their 20’s are in college… BULLSHIT!! Also the links don’t go anywhere that back the statement. FYI.

  16. I am not sure why stuart is blaming the black community for the crimes of the minority of blacks. Do we blame all whites for Columbine, or for the shooting during the batman movie or the one at the temple recently, no. There should be a call to action in the white community to stop the mass killings that you all commit.

  17. Here’s the thing: this question, one that replicates the old black doll, white doll test of the early 1950’s, is not only eye opening comment on our communities’ wholesale brainwashing about our “inherent” dysfunction — one generously helped along by a so called “study” done by the “government” in 2002, but also is a classic statistical set up. I label it “brainwashing” since almost no one takes more than 10 seconds before answering — any longer and you would have to pause and might invariably think, “hmmm — not sure– certainly there are most colleges than jails…..”

    The number of Black males in prison, ages 18-24, is not slightly less than the number of Black male college students 18-24, there are almost four times as many Black male college students. THERE ARE FOUR TIMES AS MANY BLACK MEN IN COLLEGE THEN IN PRISION, IF YOU COMPARE COLLEGE AGED MEN TO COLLEGED AGED PRISIONERS!

    Its a set up because 76% of the men in PRISON are MORE THAN 25 years of age. 80% of college students are 18-24. I don’t know the percentage, but I would bet 80% of incarcerated Black men have sentences of radically more than 4 years. All that to say the question askes us to compare oranges to mangos –you are comparing exponentially additive numbers of old men to transient students. And guess what? In recent years the numbers of Black males incarcerated have been going down! 900,000+ Black male students! Seriously!! Out of 2.5 million Black people!! Not seeing those explanation points in the “reports”. But there are, of course, statistic, damn statistics and lies.

    Larger point — what are we doing with all these college students? They must be super people — having survived the “dysfunctional community” and all. Are we making sure we harness that exceptional brain power?! Lord knows they can’t all be the one to save the country while being accused of doing nothing.


  19. I don’t understand your prison figure. Is that all of the African American inmates or all of the college age African American inmates?

  20. I read quite a few of the statements on here. why is everyone so caught up about gel or prison? that is what the problem is now days everyone looks at the negative. the whole point of this I see _ is to encourage more black men to go to college_
    no matter who you are or what you are it’s all in where you grew up but its what you’re going to do with it…. we cannot blame no 1 or nothing for where we are. it is our choice to do crime or go to college.
    but as a teenager once they become an adult I don’t see how they could hold any of the criminal background against them some of my bro’s feel they can’t get as far as they could of if they did not mess up as a teenager.
    our life is an our own is up to you if you’re going to hand it over… or take the right path or the wrong 1. either way is up to us once we see what’s we did or did not do to go the way we want to.
    I get tired of this white and black. I feel people use that when they don’t like something that is going on.
    I’m in WA now if I was down in the south then maybe I would think differently .

  21. oh and to the comment about it’s not saying how many black guys have dropped out. that is not in question…. but they wouldn’t drop out and they would do good if they stop acting like THUGG. a friend of mine said she knows who is all going to drop out once she sees them. because of the way they talk & act and that goes the same for jobs. so she was saying just cause we grew up in the ghetto don’t mean we got to act like it, more if you’re going to try to be more professional for school or work

  22. This response is for anyone who read reports at face value…THINK. The report states that there are slightly more Black men in college than in prison. That data seems straight forward but dig in a little deeper.

    The average college student is between the ages of 18-24. Yes, there are some people that attend college after the age of 24, but do you know what they are called…NON-TRADITIONAL STUDENTS. With that being said, the prison population demographic is 18-80 (in other words, through death).

    How can you possibly compare a demographic of 6 years to a demographic of 60 years and expect to glean sometime of relevant information?

    The real question is how many Black men between the ages of 18-24 are in college vs prison. My guess is that you will find that the number of Black men in college VASTLY eclipses those that are incarcerated.

    You won’t see that number though…why? Because it won’t sell any papers, generate any website hits, or increase any telvision ratings.

  23. Now noobody likes mathematical stastistics when it is applied to race, but let’s face it every race has it’s own cultural mantality and in a time where media censorship is very unpopular and even unacceptable people will always immitate and emmulate what they see and hear from their favorite idols. This is the real problem.

  24. I’m sick of this crap. Blacks are the only set of people who have crime directly connected to our skin completion. Crime exists everywhere not just black countries. European nations such as Italy, Ireland, Russia, and England as well as Spain, Portugal, and even France are experiencing outrageous level of violent crime and drug addiction. Ireland is drowning in Crime and Drug Addiction. Dublin is full of heroin addicts. And these are White Countries. Russia has One of the highest rates of heroin addiction on Earth. Violent Crime is also high there. So much for Black Crime Rates now. And also its less black men in the criminal justice system than 13 years ago as we see and when we look @ the whole population of black men in the U.S. Working age at that, the numbers and percentage of black men incarcerated are even less than that. More Black Men are in college getting degrees, working on jobs, and in military than going in and out of jail, committing crime, and members of gangs. And by the way, black marriage rates are going up and incarceration rates are becoming less and less. Because the next generation is living and learning from the mistakes of the previous one, I see this all the time. it all boils down to one word; Choices. Everybody got choices. Life is all about Choices.

  25. Well to me , knowing that this country was built on lies !!! Our history in school didn’t tell blacks everything … I’m 31 yrs old an just finding out about European sex camp in good ol’America ! That Christopher Columbus was a rapist , an child molester ! George Washington really died raping a black woman in his quarters !!! She gave him a cold !!! The nasty test ran on black women !!! Abraham Lincoln slave owner . I don’t celebrate American holidays , the hate they taught us has us hating us !!!! Instead of them , them bringing drugs in an teaching us how to make it , and then making laws on it because there not making any money for taxes !!! Well if they dont know the crack area is dying , and the Black Panthers are coming making back !!! This number will change !!!

  26. I don’t think his fact check should have been limited to just black men. He is close enough to correct but the accurate data would actually support his point even more. The figures he cited were from a source that lacked data due to colleges choosing not to report attendance of black students. That was addressed and updated years following. If the author were to update his numbers here, it would reflect a higher gap.

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