More Black Men in College than in Prison

Jamelle Bouie, American Prospect, February 28, 2013

At this point, it’s almost a cliché to declare “There are more black men in jail than in college.” {snip} When he was just a presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama told the NAACP that “We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America.”

It’s a great soundbite. But it isn’t true. As Howard University professor Ivory Toldson shows in a story for The Root, the original report on black male college enrollment—the Justice Policy Institute’s “Cellblocks or Classrooms,” first published in 2001—is far out of date. “If we replicated JPI’s analysis,” writes Toldson, “we would find a 108.5 percent jump in black male college enrollment from 2001 to 2011. The raw numbers show that enrollment of black males increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,445,194 in 2011.”

By contrast, of the estimated 2 million inmates held in state or federal prison—or local jails—841,000 are African American men. To be fair, those numbers are from 2009. Toldson provides a more direct comparison using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the Department of Justice’s statistics on prison enrollment:

Chart

In 2009, the DOJ’s most recent year for data on prison populations, there were more than 150 percent more black males in college than incarcerated. {snip}

{snip}

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