True or False: More black men in jail than in college

I’ve long believed that there are more black men in jail than in college. However, I’m taking into account all black men of college age, not comparing the total number of black men in jail to the total number of black men enrolled in college. I’ve found an interesting article that attemps to answer the question of this belief being true or false, and provides some statistics. This is a belief I’ve heard noted time and time again (especially when discussing the number of available black men in the company of single black women).

In the article, Michael Strambler (Baltimore Sun) writes:

“Are more black men behind bars than in college? The answer lies in who is doing the counting – and how.

A controversy is brewing about the veracity of this often-stated belief – one that is likely to be amplified by the injustice in Jena, La., and the new census report that more black people live in jails than in dormitories.

Unfortunately, the claims from neither side of the debate provide an accurate picture of the issue. We need to get a handle on the answer so we are not distracted from pursuing the larger question of why so many black men are incarcerated.

Part of the tension around this subject has to do with the film What Black Men Think, which in part aims to debunk the popular negative notions about black men. One point the filmmaker, Janks Morton, argues is that the notion that there are more black men in jail and prison than in college is false. In the film, most of the criticism is directed toward the Justice Policy Institute, which produced a 2002 report that Mr. Morton says sparked all the hoopla. Mr. Morton calls the report a con to benefit the Justice Policy Institute and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the institute, recently reiterated the validity of the report’s findings. But the real answer lies between their arguments.

The numbers in question from the Justice Policy Institute report come from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics. The report indicates that there were an estimated 791,600 black men in jail and prison in 2000 and a count of 603,032 in college in 1999. Mr. Morton agrees with the jail and prison number but asserts in his blog that the more reliable U.S. Census Bureau reports that there were 816,000 black men in college in 2000. In the film, he makes comparisons using the same data sources for 2005 and states this number to be 864,000. Furthermore, he argues that it is bad practice to use the entire age range of black males when making these comparisons, because the age range for college-going males is generally 18 to 24, not the 18 to 55 (and up) range of the jail and prison population. Viewed this way, the ratio of black men in college compared with jail and prison is 4-to-1.

Mr. Morton’s position that the Census Bureau number is more accurate leads to the assumption that the number is a head count, similar to the decennial census. But the number really comes from the Current Population Survey, which is conducted by the Census Bureau but is not the census itself. This is a household survey administered to a sample of individuals in order to estimate the entire population. The less representative the coverage of the survey, the less sure one can be of the accuracy of the estimated number. And – surprise – the Current Population Survey’s lowest coverage rate is among young black men.

On the other hand, the number of college-going black males from the National Center for Education Statistics is from a mandatory institutional survey of all degree-granting institutions eligible to disburse federal financial aid funds (the overwhelming majority). No sampling is involved; they count all the students in the nation. This points to the greater reliability of the national center number over the Current Population Survey number.

Mr. Morton does make a very important point about the need for these kinds of comparisons to use relevant age groups, which the Justice Policy Institute report does not do.

The best evidence thus indicates that as a whole, there are more black men in jail and prison than in college – but there are more college-age black men in college than in jail and prison. It doesn’t make for a great sound bite; complex realities rarely do. But perhaps the primary focus of the discussion can now turn to why there are so many black men in jail – and what society can do about it.”

I’m glad to hear that there are more college aged black men in school rather than jail cells. However, we must be conscious of the impact of the lack of those brothers 18-55 not being present in our communities. Children raised without fathers, single black women without mates, and the plight these men face when released are all realities that the Black community must deal with. Each year, when 650,000 ex-prisoners return to communities all across the United States, so many of them are African Americans.  They are our brothers, lovers, fathers…they are us.  We shouldn’t just consider them statistics…we should consider them loved so that they can be restored and our community can be restored.  Let our legacy evolve so that the assumption of where our college aged black men are will be that they are in a positive place due to our efforts.

7 Comments

Filed under academic, african american, black man, crime, culture, history, jena 6, media, opinion, race, student

7 Responses to True or False: More black men in jail than in college

  1. Thanks for your comments on my article. You make some great points about how the high incarceration rate of black men impacts our community.

  2. Jaquan

    Great article. I, myself, am a college student, and I’m happy to see that there are more college-aged black men attending college than doing time in prison, contrary to what others would tell you!

  3. No redheads

    Why is this such a big issue? Either it is the discussion of black men are very likely to be in jail, not do well in school, or have a hard time finding a job. Or, that other nationalities like hanging out with them but people are more incline to have preferences to asian, hispanic and black men. YAdda yadda yadda yadda. This may be true but the more you give attention to this ideas the more it is in ones head. Just spread your black babies around. THe only asset black men have is having as many women as they can by as many types of women as they can. The latter will also help will power and growth! LOL

  4. No redheads

    I am so tired of heaing about how there are more black men in jail than in college. THat they dont do well in school, are that they are more likely to be in jail, or what have you. The best thing to do is to downplay this the more you give into this the more itis held against you. I am so sick of heairng about this stuff and that black men are well liked but do not get the respect that a hispanic, asian or white man would. That they may get better service, preferential treatment. yadda yadda yadda. The best assest a black man has is having kids and having as many by different types of women as possible. That is the best way to power and growth.

  5. kjsfd

    this is not needed to be discussed. this is not exactly morale boosting

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  7. frances carodine

    what is odd there are more black men going to college than prison . yet if you google it it would say the opposite. just like blacks in american history and which is left out

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