Being jailed in federal or state prisons has become so common for African Americans today that more young black men in the United States have done time than have served in the military or earned a college degree, according to a new study.
The paper, appearing in the most recent American Sociological Review (published by the American Sociological Association), estimates that 20 percent of all black men born from 1965 to 1969 had served time in prison by the time they reached their early 30s. By comparison, less than 3 percent of white males born in the same time period had been in prison.
Equally startling, the risks of prison incarceration rose steeply with lower levels of education. Among blacks, 30.2 percent of those who didn't attend college had gone to prison by 1999 and 58.9 percent of black high school dropouts born from 1965 through 1969 had served time in state or federal prison by their early 30s.
By the end of 1999, 1.3 million men were in federal or state prisons. The researchers said that changes in penal policy through the 1970s and 1980s, including custodial sentences for drug offenses and mandatory minimum sentences, helped fuel the expansion of the penal system and has led to growing disparities in the risk of incarceration among men of different education levels.
"Prison is no longer just for the most violent or incorrigible offenders. Inmates are increasingly likely to be serving time for drug offenses or property crimes," Pettit said. "While there is enduring racial disproportionality in imprisonment, we find that the lifetime risk of incarceration is increasingly stratified by education. Over the past 30 years the risk of incarceration has grown for both blacks and whites, but has grown the fastest among men who have a high school diploma or less."
"This has become increasingly important because we know ex-prisoners face a variety of challenges after incarceration," said Western. "These range from employer discrimination in the job market to increased risks of divorce and separation in family life. The experience of imprisonment in America has emerged as a key social division, marking a new pattern in the lives of recent birth cohorts of black men." ###
The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.
Contact: Johanna Ebner / Lee Herring email@example.com 202-383-9005 x332 American Sociological Association