Are black men more likely to go to prison than college? A new report from a Washington think tank says yes, but another Washington institution calls the finding “misleading.”
“These trends are very disturbing,” Vincent Schiraldi, president of the Justice Policy Institute, said as JPI released its report, “Cellblocks or Classrooms? The Funding of Higher Education and Corrections and its Impact on African-American Men.” JPI advocates reducing incarceration.
“They’ve taken some statistics in a very slap-dash fashion and produced a distorted vision of what life is like for African-Americans,” said Iain Murray, director of research at the Statistical Assessment Services. The nonprofit organization reviews how scientific and social research is presented to the public.
JPI researchers used numerous sources to glean data, including the National Association of State Budget Officers, the National Center on Education Statistics, the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The report says there were 791,600 black men in correctional facilities in 2000 and 603,032 enrolled in higher education. “This means there were 188,500 more African-American men incarcerated than in higher education,” the report says.
JPI also estimated that between 1985 and 2000, states increased their spending on corrections by $20 billion, while increasing their higher education spending by $10.7 billion. During that period, the report says, the corrections share of state budgets increased while the higher education share decreased.
The report alludes to a theory that increased spending on corrections has led to more black male incarceration and lower college enrollment. “We cannot definitively say whether the prison system is actually siphoning off African-American men who were destined to go to college,” the report says.
Over at Statistical Assessment Services, Murray said the report is flawed because, among other things, it compares college enrollment figures to incarceration figures for all black males, not just those who are college-aged.
“They’re really not comparing like to like. You can go to college at any time, but most go between 18 and 24,” he said.
Murray said U.S. Census Bureau figures show that there were 469,000 African-American males ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college in 2000, compared with 180,000 in prison or jail.
“An African-American male of college age is therefore over two-and-a-half times as likely to be in college than in prison,” Murray wrote in a column posted on the Tech Central Station website (www.techcentralstation.com) last month.