The Incarceration of Black Men in America

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

America has the world’s highest rate of incarceration, currently 738 per 100,000. Our nearest competitor for this dubious distinction is the Russian Federation with 607 and Cuba with 487. “The US incarcerates at a rate 4 to 7 times higher than other western nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany and up to 32 times higher than nations with the lowest rates such as Nepal, Nigeria, and India.”                                                                                                                                           Despite possible protestations that this is because we have the best law enforcement, my sense is that the reasons lie more in the system, than those who enforce it. No one ever lost an election in America because of the perception they “were tough on crime”.

“Race: Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.”

Despite possible protestations that this is because we have the best law enforcement, my sense is that the reasons lie more in the system, than those who enforce it. No one ever lost an election in America because of the perception they “were tough on crime”. “Race: Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.”

These two sets of statistics when viewed together tell a terrible tale of how racial oppression still exists in this country despite our Black President and Black Attorney General. This Administration hasn’t caused of this problem, but they  don’t seem to have made any progress dealing with it. We do know that there has been a widespread effort to play down the racial division that continues to plague this country. This continues despite Civil Rights Laws, Martin Luther King’s Birthday and TV beer commercials that always include at least one black male friend enjoying the camaraderie. Clearly there is a disconnect between how we Americans want to see ourselves and the reality for many Black males. I’m focusing on the problem of black males in this piece, rather than the general oppression of Black people, because the effect of this process is a function of the general racist climate of this country and is a major contributor to the continuance of this oppression. There have often been discussions on this blog about the devastating effects of the “War on Drugs” and this quote is illustrative of the tenor of theses discussions. “Nationwide, black males convicted of drug felonies in state courts are sentenced to prison 52 percent of the time, while white males are sentenced to prison only 34 percent of the time. The ratio for women is similar – 41 percent of black female felony drug offenders are sentenced to  prison, as compared to 24 percent of white females. With respect to violent offenses, 74 percent of  black male convicted felons serve prison time, as opposed to only 60 percent of white male convicted felons. With respect to all felonies, 58 percent of black male convicted felons, as opposed to 45 percent of white men, serve prison sentences”.                                                                                                                                                                           sentencing.html                                                                     

It is clear to me that racism exists today in America, despite supposed gains and that this disparity in the treatment of race is not only devastating to Black people, but its continuance is disastrous for our entire society. The degeneration of our political system during the last five decades may not be solely due to racial prejudice, but those who have helped bring it about certainly have used racism to empower their viewpoints, even as their rhetoric has shifted from overt to covert. I’m moved to write this because I believe that unless this problem becomes accepted in our public consciousness, there will be no escape from the downward trend of our nation towards political and economic disaster.

I’ve presented enough evidence of the racialist tendency of our system and the reader either will accept what it suggests, or substitute their own pre-judgments of what these statistics mean. My discussion focuses on how this reality impacts upon Black people in America and thus impacts us all, despite our race and/or ethnicity. What set me off thinking about this was a TV Program called “Our America” with Lisa Ling. The episode was entitled “The Incarceration Generation”.

Personally, this episode brought up an admixture of tears and anger as I watched. It showed the life arcs of some Black males about to be released from prison, the effects on their families of their incarceration and then by their release. The premise, which I endorse, is that this generation of jailed Black men will, and has already impacted on the coming generation of Black men. The message was we must somehow stop this cycle, but the solution to stopping the cycle is not clear macro-cosmically and too slow if change is measured person by person.

As much as I’m prone to pontification, I really can see only one way that this continued racism is ever going to change. To the possible delight of our more conservative and/or libertarian commenter’s, I don’t believe that the first step towards this change would benefit from government intervention via legislation or fiat. While the original issue decided in “Brown vs. Board of Education“, that Blacks and Whites were receiving unequal schooling due to segregation and unequal funding, the general judicial remedy which became School Busing was not only in hindsight a failure, but actually increased tension between races and diminished White support for Civil Rights. It was a decision that tried to solve the problem cheaply, rather than first ensuring that the funding for Black and White (indeed all) schoolchildren was equivalent. How much more elegant to have hoisted the segregationists on their own petard of “separate but equal”, than to have demanded and overseen that they indeed provided equal funding

and support to Black schools. I understand that this was not the remedy being requested in this suit, but looking back it might have been a far more effective strategy. All of the gains in White sympathy for the struggle of Black people for their Constitutional freedom, were negated when the sad results of hundreds of years of slavery was dumped upon the educational systems specifically of the working classes. It resulted in the “Southern Strategy” that got Richard Nixon elected, using code words in place of outright racist rhetoric. Fighting crime became the code for cracking down on Blacks and the upward spiral of the incarceration of Americans began with the inception of the ridiculous “War on Drugs”. When people are steeped in false, bigoted notions of the “other”,  reinforced by a corporate media that finds sensationalizing crime garners profits, minds won’t be changed by legislation.

Certainly, steps must be taken to end the “War on Drugs”, to deal with racist law enforcement issues and to ensure that each American, regardless of skin color and/or ethnicity, is afforded equal rights under our Constitution. But first, before any palliatives are presented by our politicians, the problem of America’s continuing racism and its disproportionate effect on Black males must be brought into the open, discussed and hopefully acknowledged. Without that nothing changes since racism cannot be obliterated by enforcement, it merely morphs underground where it nevertheless festers. It is preferable to directly know ones’ enemies by their words, than to have those beliefs covered up.

Among the great ironies of modern America is how bigots have learned to couch their bigotry in terms that are inherently dishonest, yet provide them verbal cover when challenged. At times, among the less controlled public voices like Limbaugh or Beck it, their bigotry comes through, but even then they will cry foul if they are called on it and pretend that charging them with bigotry is absurd and bigoted in itself. When people are accused of “playing the race card”, the accuser is probably racist, knowingly or unknowingly. I think that many refuse to personally acknowledge their own bigotry, knowing rationally it is wrong, yet they find comfort and cover in the hypocrisy of code words and denial, from even themselves.

The other effect of incarceration of Black men disproportionately, is that it then becomes extremely difficult to obtain jobs after their release. As one man put it on the Lisa Ling show “Would you hire a former felon?”. We’ve set up a system where recidivism is the norm for all prisoners and this is mainly because after serving ones sentence, there are far less opportunities to find gainful employment. I know this from personal experience since my father served time for a “white collar” crime before my birth and his whole working/economic life was affected until his death 20 years later. He was White, had a massive vocabulary and a dynamic personality. He could never get credit and a family member had to co-sign in order to get a mortgage for our house. My father earned a good living as a car salesman, but his many attempts at starting his own business was affected by an inability to obtain adequate financing due to his prior incarceration. My father had many advantages over many black men with criminal histories, but the primary one was his skin color

When you perpetuate a system that incarcerates such a large swath of the Black male population, sentences them disproportionately to other racial/ethnic groups and prevents them from going straight after they’ve served their time, you create instability and chaos within the Black community. The evil history of slavery and racism remains with us today. Until we acknowledge the reality of how it perpetuates itself, it will never cease and our country will continue its’ downward spiral of economic disparity and debilitating racial/ethnic tension.

117 thoughts on “The Incarceration of Black Men in America”

  1. I recently finished working on an infographic that explores some devastating facts on the topic. While America makes up 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the world’s prisoners are Americans in America’s prisons! I thought I would share this with you in the hopes you might make some use of it. It’s certainly an important issue. Here’s the link:

    Best Wishes,
    Jack Kelle

  2. “It will be bad for all of us trust me.” I figure you left out the word ‘if”, it will be bad for all of us if you trust me (or the nonsense you spout.)

  3. Once again you pass the buck and blame the tests. The same tests are giving to all students. The blacks do more poorly then the other races.. Period. You can’t blame the tests. You can’t blame wealth because as I pointed out the poor white kids do great. You can’t blame the culture because they themselves created that culture.

    You can also look at Africa itself. The is one of the poorest places to live in the world. Even with their abundance of natural resources they still do poorly.

    It’s not all bad… You have people like Will Smith and Degrasse. Who are both smart and intelligent. But overall the blacks are the least intelligent race in the world.

    Their lack of intelligence make them get caught more committing crimes as well as makes them commit more crimes overall. This is why the numbers of jailed black men are so much higher.

    As I said before you have to accept these short coming in order to improve on them. Passing the blame will only make things worse.

    The only reason why I am speaking out on this right now is the US is in a trance like state right now…. They are in denial like the rest.. The restraints of this denial is reaching its peak and when they break reality will hit very hard.. It will be bad for all of us trust me.

    This is what I do although no one ever listens.. They would rather feel right then be right.. So I guess I’m just wasting my breath once again.

    And jesus don’t result to being a Grammer Nazi… We aren’t on a teen forum here.



    The literature on the effects of education and cultural background on Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III (WAIS-III), Wechsler Memory Scale-III (WMS-III), WAIS-R and WMS-R performances was reviewed. The electronic databases PsycINFO, MEDLINE and PubMed were searched over the period 1980–2008 and reference lists from papers identified were examined for relevant articles. of 3,081 papers identified, 19 met criteria including English language, group research, adult sample, quantitative data published and focus on relationship between culture and/or education and performances on WAIS-III, WMS-III, WAIS-R or WMS-R measures. There was converging evidence that both education and culture showed significant relationships with test performances, particularly on the WAIS-III and WAIS-R in control and clinical groups. The limited research available did not demonstrate improved diagnostic efficiency with the application of demographic corrections for the WAIS-III. Clinical implications were discussed, including the issue of compromised validity when assessing people from diverse cultural backgrounds for whom relevant normative data are not available. Suggested research directions included the development of culturally and linguistically specific normative data, the modification and validation of “culture-free” tests and the examination of cultural effects in clinical groups in the Australian context.

    The WAIS and WISC have long been criticized for cultural invalidity
    See I google to find out why. You google to prove your invalid, and appearingly racist, point

  5. What if youre math or spelling dyslexic, your numbers are down just one example.

  6. It’s on wiki do you not know how to use Google? ” IQ tests performed in the United States have consistently demonstrated a significant degree of
    variation between different racial groups , with the average score of those with African ancestry
    lower than that of European ancestry and the average score of those with East Asian ancestry
    being higher than that of European ancestry.” from other sites I have read the Jewish have the over all highest…. With blacks being lowest. But then you all just blame it on being poor.. But the poor white kids in America are higher then the nation average. Where the poor blacks have the lowest.. So it’s not a money issue either.

  7. Their IQs are lower Am I reading you correct, you are saying Black people (or just black men) have lower Iq’s then whites? Please provide us a click/link for this…malarkey

  8. The high amount of blacks in prison is not proof they are being mistreated.. Its proof that they commit more crimes and get caught more often.. Period. I don’t know of one black person on a personal level that got arrested for no reason. I don’t know one black male that didn’t get arrested at least once in his life.

    Their IQs are lower they have a higher chance of being violent.. Higher chance of incarceration, higher Std rate. As well as a 70% chance of abandoning the mother of their child.

    It’s a chemical cocktail for failure. Which supports the idea that these men get put in prison for the right reasons instead of the wrong ones.

    Also if I hear one more story of a black male getting pulled over for being in a nice car I’m going to scream. Hell I’m white and get pulled over for my car because my hair is long.. I don’t cry about it. Also you can’t legally pull someone one for no reason so stop crying and sue..

    Until you all stop pointing the finger and start working on your short comings it will always be this way.

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