When President Barack Obama said that “more young Black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities in America,” at the NAACP Democratic Candidate Forum several years ago, that information moved many listeners emotionally. Studies have since debunked that statistic, but this in no way means that the number of Black men who are incarcerated is not staggering.
According to U. S. Census estimates, there are around 18,508,926 Black males in the United States. According to The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Prisoner Statistics Program in 2013, out of that population—which includes both children and elderly males—an astonishing 745,000 are incarcerated, either in federal or local jails.
But even more astonishing is how the United States ranks against other nations. India, for example, boasts a population of 1.2 billion people—around four times that of the United States—and has only about 380,000 inmates in all its jails. To take it further, there are more Black men incarcerated in the United States today than the total prison populations of India, Argentina, Canada, Israel Lebanon, Finland, Germany, France and England combined.
Political motivations may have a hand in this, according to Nicole Porter’s article, “Politics of Black Lives Matter.”
Between 1965 and 1990, a period during which overall and violent crime rates tripled in Germany, Finland, and the United States, German politicians chose to hold the imprisonment rate flat, Finnish politicians chose to substantially reduce theirs, and American politicians generally enacted policies that sent more people to prison, along with lengthened prison terms.
These incarnation rates are also grossly out of proportion to the ratio of incarcerated women in America. While there is a total of almost 161,000,000 women in America of all races, the entire women’s prison population is only around 200,000, according to the Sentencing Project. To put that in starker perspective, while Black men are only about a tenth the size of the entire American female population, they are nearly 4 times more likely to be incarcerated.
Although President Obama’s original assertion about Black men in prison may be outdated, it does not change the overarching epidemic of black male incarceration in America. While 1.4 million Black men attend colleges, 745,000 are locked up (and many more on probation or parole). That ratio needs to change, or in the words of President Obama, “We have more work to do…”