Nav: Home

More young black men have done prison time than military service or earned college degree

May 20, 2004

Being jailed in federal or state prisons has become so common 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 new study.

The paper, appearing this week in the American Sociological Review, estimates that 20 percent of all black men born from 1965 through 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.

"More strikingly than patterns of military enlistment, marriage or college graduation, prison time differentiates the young adulthood of black men from the life course of white males. Imprisonment is now a common life event for an entire demographic group," said Becky Pettit, one of the study's authors and a University of Washington assistant professor of sociology. Bruce Western, a Princeton University professor of sociology, is the co-author.

The study looks at men born from 1945 through 1969 focusing on two groups - those born from 1945 through 1949 and those born from 1965 through 1969. It draws on publicly available data on inmates in federal and state prisons from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, but does not include information on spending time in local jails, which hold an estimated one-third of the incarcerated prison population. Hispanics were not included because data was not available, particularly about men born in the 1940s.

The incarceration rate for black men born in 1945-49 was 10.6 percent by the time they were in their early 30s, but increased to 20.5 percent for those born in 1965-69. Among white men the overall risk of imprisonment grew from 1.4 percent to 2.9 percent over the same time period.

The increase in the incarceration marked a dramatic shift in the life course for young black males. In addition to estimating the risk of incarceration for birth cohorts by race and education, the researchers compared the prevalence of spending time in prison to other important life events for men born in 1965-69 who survived until 1999. Pettit and Western found that 22.4 percent of surviving black men born in that period had spent time in jail, while just 17.4 percent had served in the military and only 12.5 percent had earned a bachelor's degree.

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 80s, 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 by education.

"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."
-end-
The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.

For more information, contact Pettit, who is currently a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York, at 212-750-6036 or bpettit@u.washington.edu or Western at 609-258-2445 or western@opr.princeton.edu.

University of Washington

Related Education Articles:

Applying artificial intelligence to science education
A new review published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching highlights the potential of machine learning--a subset of artificial intelligence--in science education.
Dementia education
School-based dementia education could deliver much needed empathy and understanding for older generations as new research from the University of South Australia shows it can significantly improve dementia knowledge and awareness among younger generations.
How can education researchers support education and public health and institutions during COVID-19?
As education researchers' ongoing work is interrupted by school closures, what can they do to support education and public health institutions dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?
Online education platforms could scale high-quality STEM education for universities
Online and blended (online and in-person) STEM instruction can produce the same learning outcomes for students as traditional, in-person classes at a fraction of the cost, finds research published today in Science Advances.
Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.
The new racial disparity in special education
Racial disparity in special education is growing, and it's more complex than previously thought.
Education may be key to a healthier, wealthier US
A first-of-its-kind study estimate the economic value of education for better health and longevity.
How education may stave off cognitive decline
Prefrontal brain regions linked to higher educational attainment are characterized by increased expression of genes involved in neurotransmission and immunity, finds a study of healthy older adults published in JNeurosci.
Does more education stem political violence?
In a study released online today in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, three Norwegian researchers attempt to bring clarity to this question by undertaking the first systematic examination of quantitative research on this topic.
Individual education programs not being used as intended in special education
Gone are the days when students with disabilities were placed in a separate classroom, or even in a completely different part of the school.
More Education News and Education Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.