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One Out Of Three U.S. Black Males Will Be Jailed, Study Finds

by Katrin Dauenhauer

Don't Expect The U.S. To Ever Grant Prison Amnesty
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- One out of three African American males in the United States can be expected to be jailed during his lifetime, according to a Justice Department report released in August.

One in six Latinos and one in 17 whites will also serve time, says the study by the department's office of justice programs (OJP).

About 1 in 37 U.S. adults has already been or is now in prison, it adds, giving the "land of the free" the world's highest incarceration rate in the world.

According to the report, if rates of first incarceration remain unchanged, 6.6 percent of all people born in the United States in 2001 will go to state or federal prison during their lifetime, up from 5.2 percent in 1991, and 1.9 percent in 1974.

The report, which documents for the first time imprisonment in the U.S. population from 1974 to 2001, highlights the disparities among groups.

At the end of 2001, it says, about 16.6 percent of adult black males were current or former inmates, compared to 7.7 percent of Hispanic males and 2.6 percent of white males.

Among black males 35 to 44 years of age, 22 percent were current or former prisoners, compared to 10 percent of Hispanic males and 3.5 percent of white males in the same age group.

The high number of black males jailed illustrates a "uniquely American vicious circle of racism," according to The black Leadership Forum (BLF), a confederation of civil rights and service groups based in Washington.

"The extrapolation into perpetuity, described by the Justice Department's statistics, in fact is a very modest understatement of the havoc continually visited upon black and brown communities," says a statement by the BLF.

"Reports abound of the growing dire effects, on black males in particular, of the Bush administration's arbitrary policies of suspended civil liberties masquerading as elements in 'the war on terrorism'. This arbitrariness gets replicated and expanded in its local application by already unbridled 'racial profilers' inside racist local law enforcement organizations," it adds.

Over the 27-year period covered by the study, the number of Hispanics jailed rose nearly 10-fold (from 102,000 to 997,000) and the number of blacks more than tripled (from 646,000 to 2,167,000), while the number of whites more than doubled (from 923,000 to 2,203,000).

"These numbers are alarming," Robert Deposada, spokesperson for the Latino Coalition, told IPS on Monday.

"However, what the report doesn't show is that these offenders tend to come from low-income families. Thus, the numbers in the report show the importance of the need for better education and better means to identify good jobs," he continued.

The importance of education and economic is also acknowledged by the OJP.

"The report was not intended to go beyond the documentation of numbers of the U.S. population being incarcerated," Allen Beck from the OJP's communications office told IPS.

"Still, one can observe that most offenders have marginal employment histories, low levels of education and come most of the time from single-parent or no-parent families."

The implications of serving time in jail are broad, according to Ryan King, research associate with the Washington-based Sentencing Project.

"Oftentimes, incarceration goes along with the loss of one's voting rights, the loss of participating in society as a full member; a number of states have a lifetime welfare ban for drug abuses."

"In some states, former felons can't get licenses for certain jobs or experience a lack of access to public housing or social service arenas," he told IPS.

High levels of incarcerations also have dire consequences for the family and all members of the affected community, he added.

"When a significant number of fathers is removed from certain minority communities, so called informal means of control are suspended. This leads to a constant disorganization that makes it very difficult to set down standards and leads to an over-reliance of formal means of control, for example the police," said King.

As a general trend, the number of women who serve time in prison is far lower than those of men, regardless of gender, race or origin.

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Albion Monitor August 20, 2003 (

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