VOX: The myth that there are more black men in prison than in college, debunked in one chart

Career College Central Summary:

  • "There are more black men in jail than in college."
  • Ivory A. Toldson — Howard University professor, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and deputy director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs — called this, in a 2013 column for the Root, "the most frequently quoted statistic about black men in the United States."
  • It's also dead wrong.
  • Where it came from

    • In 2002, the Justice Policy Institute, a national nonprofit dedicated to reducing incarceration, released a report titled "Cellblocks or Classrooms: The Funding of Higher Education and Corrections and its Impact on African American Men."
    • One of its key sobering findings was this: "Nearly a third more African-American men are incarcerated than in higher education."
    • The statistic almost instantly became a talking point. It was often deployed by those who wanted to explain just how dire racial disparities in the United States were, and how desperately the situation facing black men needed attention and intervention.
    • Even Barack Obama has mentioned it. At a 2007 NAACP forum that he attended as a presidential candidate, he told the crowd, "We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America."
    • The stat was also repeated by those who wanted to anchor their arguments that that African American communities — and black men in particular — suffered from a dangerous cultural pathology.
    • In 2012, former NBA player Charles Barkley, explaining why he felt he had to carry a gun, said, "You know, we as black people always, we don't have respect for one another. You know, we've got more black men in prison than we do in college, and crime in our neighborhoods is running rampant."
  • The truth

    • The Census estimates that approximately 18,508,926 people in the U.S. population are black males, of all ages. In 2013, 1,437,363 were in college, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

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