> Black Male Imprisonment Exaggerates Black Progression
Black Male Imprisonment Exaggerates Black Progression
According to a recent article published onNYTimes.com, the disproportionate amount of black men in prison has ironically made the black community appear to be more successful than it really is. Sociologist Dr. Beck Pettit, of the University of Washington, has published recent research titled “Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress” to balance the perception of black progression.
A few years ago, Dr. Pettit and another sociologist, Dr. Bryan Sykes tried to quantify the growing proportion of black men imprisoned by age 20. They focused on men born between 1975 and 1979 who later dropped out of high school. They noticed an inconsistency. Their initial findings implied that more young, black, low-skill men had been in prison than were alive. Dr. Pettit discovered the source of the inconsistency: Corrections officials count actual prisoners, a captive audience; sociologists and census-takers typically undercount prisoners and former inmates living on the edge of society.
Dr. Pettit believes that this inconsistent means of capturing data causes an issue in which imprisoned black men aren’t figured into statistics about the standing of African-Americans. The consequence, she says, is an overstatement of black progress in education, employment, wages and voting participation.
In her recent research, Dr. Pettit concludes:
- Among male high school dropouts born between 1975 and 1979, 68 percent of blacks (compared with 28 percent of whites) had been imprisoned at some point by 2009, and 37 percent of blacks (compared with 12 percent of whites) were incarcerated that year.
- By the time they turn 18, one in four black children will have experienced the imprisonment of a parent.
- More young black dropouts are in prison or jail than have paying jobs. Black men are more likely to go to prison than to graduate with a four-year college degree or complete military service.
- Black dropouts are more likely to spend at least a year in prison than to get married.
“Among low-skill black men, spending time in prison has become a normative life event, furthering their segregation from mainstream society,” Dr. Pettit writes. She estimates that if inmates were counted, the black high school dropout rate would soar to 19% and the share of dropouts who are employed would plunge to 26% — far more dire than the statistics usually cited. The celebrated voter turnout among young blacks in the 2008 election would drop to roughly 20%.
While “black progress is not a myth,” Dr. Patterson said, “the simple, tragic truth is that a large number of young black men do engage in violent acts and other forms of criminal behavior.” He continued: “Over 80% of black children have been abandoned emotionally and, usually, economically by their fathers. It is not the case that black children are deprived of paternal emotional and economic support because their fathers are in prison; rather, their fathers are in prison in good part because their own fathers had abandoned them emotionally and economically.”Blacks account for nearly half of the more than 2.3 million Americans in prison or jail. Failure to include them in measures of black progress, she argues, is akin to leaving states out of national counts. Former inmates are typically poor and therefore tend to be undercounted. “We collect data to evaluate public policy and allocate resources,” Dr. Pettit says. “One could argue that we already provide social service to inmates, but leaving them out of the data distorts measures of progress.” Harvard sociologist Dr. Orlando Patterson said Dr. Pettit “deserves credit for specifying in sharp demographic detail the extent of the problem of incarceration, which is an American national scandal, and some of its consequences.”
Dr. Pettit stands by her premise: “Decades of penal expansion coupled with the concentration of incarceration among men, blacks and those with low levels of education have generated a statistical portrait that overstates the educational and economic progress and political engagement of African-Americans.”
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