The Firearms Forum banner
1 - 1 of 1 Posts

· *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
22,952 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
October 27, 2012

How Prisoners Make Us Look Good


A FEW years ago, the sociologists Becky Pettit and Bryan Sykes tried to quantify a worrisome phenomenon: the growing proportion of black men imprisoned by age 20. Focusing on those born between 1975 and 1979 who later dropped out of high school, they noticed an anomaly. “Our initial efforts,” Dr. Pettit recalls, “implied that more young, black, low-skill men had been to prison than were alive.”

It took her no time to resolve the inconsistency: corrections officials count actual prisoners, a captive audience; sociologists and census-takers typically undercount prisoners and former inmates living on the edge of society.

The real problem, as Dr. Pettit sees it, is that imprisoned black men aren’t figured into statistics about the standing of African-Americans. The consequence, she says, is an overstatement of black progress in education, employment, wages and voting participation.

Dr. Pettit, of the University of Washington, has now presented her research in “Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress,” published by the Russell Sage Foundation. Among her conclusions:

¶ Among male high school dropouts born between 1975 and 1979, 68 percent of blacks (compared with 28 percent of whites) had been imprisoned at some point by 2009, and 37 percent of blacks (compared with 12 percent of whites) were incarcerated that year.

¶ By the time they turn 18, one in four black children will have experienced the imprisonment of a parent.

¶ More young black dropouts are in prison or jail than have paying jobs. Black men are more likely to go to prison than to graduate with a four-year college degree or complete military service.

Black dropouts are more likely to spend at least a year in prison than to get married.

“Among low-skill black men, spending time in prison has become a normative life event, furthering their segregation from mainstream society,” Dr. Pettit writes.

If inmates were counted, she estimates, the black high school dropout rate would soar to 19 percent and the share of dropouts who are employed would plunge to 26 percent — far more dire than the statistics usually cited. The celebrated voter turnout among young blacks in the 2008 election would drop to roughly 20 percent, about where it was in 1980.

Blacks account for nearly half of the more than 2.3 million Americans in prison or jail. Failure to include them in measures of black progress, she argues, is akin to leaving states out of national counts. Former inmates, too, tend to be undercounted because they are typically poor, mobile and living precariously.

“We collect data to evaluate public policy and allocate resources,” Dr. Pettit says. “One could argue that we already provide social service to inmates, but leaving them out of the data distorts measures of progress.”

Heather Mac Donald, of the conservative Manhattan Institute, said Dr. Pettit’s premise was plausible but cautioned that because the prison population is usually in flux, the effect of not counting prisoners at any given moment might not be statistically very large.

According to federal data, 3.1 percent of black men were in state or federal prison at the end of 2010, compared with 0.5 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 1.3 percent of Hispanics. Among black men 30 to 34, 7.3 percent were serving a sentence of more than a year. (A total of 748,000 adults were in local jails, 1.5 million were in state or federal prisons, 840,000 were on parole and 4 million were under supervised probation.)

Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociologist, said Dr. Pettit “deserves credit for specifying in sharp demographic detail the extent of the problem of incarceration, which is an American national scandal, and some of its consequences.”

While “black progress is not a myth,” he said, “the simple, tragic truth is that a large number of young black men do engage in violent acts and other forms of criminal behavior.”

“Over 80 percent of black children have been abandoned emotionally and, usually, economically by their fathers,” he continued. “It is not the case that black children are deprived of paternal emotional and economic support because their fathers are in prison; rather, their fathers are in prison in good part because their own fathers had abandoned them emotionally and economically.”

The nuances can be debated, but Dr. Pettit stands by her premise: “Decades of penal expansion coupled with the concentration of incarceration among men, blacks and those with low levels of education have generated a statistical portrait that overstates the educational and economic progress and political engagement of African-Americans.”

The urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times.
1 - 1 of 1 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.