View Full Version : 8% of Miss. black men in their 20s are in prison, records show

08-25-2003, 10:22 PM
8% of Miss. black men in their 20s are in prison, records show

By Matt Volz, The Associated Press

August 23, 2003

JACKSON, Miss. - About one of every 12 black Mississippi men in their 20s is an inmate in the Mississippi prison system, state corrections and census statistics show.

Criminal justice observers say that rate, more than four times that of white men ages 20-29, may be the result of racism in the justice system, widespread poverty and low education levels.

There were 6,185 black men ages 20-29 in the state prison system on July 31, according to Mississippi Department of Corrections statistics. That's just over 8 percent of the 75,901 black men in that age group living in Mississippi when the 2000 Census was taken.

By comparison, 1.7 percent of white men in that age range were incarcerated.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the lopsided numbers reflect the racism in the country's criminal justice system.

Mississippi's male prison population - regardless of age - is largely black. Out of 21,142 male inmates, 14,765, or 69.8 percent, were black.

The next largest male group by race was whites, at 29.4 percent.

Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the ACLU's National Prisons Project, said most black inmates are nonviolent offenders who could easily be given alternative sentences, but are given jail time instead because of the color of their skin.

"At arrest, at trial, at the sentencing stage and deciding who goes to prison, there is racism involved," Gotsch said.

But the high number of black male inmates may be a sign of larger societal problems, said Don Cabana, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Southern Mississippi and a former corrections commissioner.

"When an ethnic group comprises 14 percent of a population but more than 50 percent of the nation's prison population, something is terribly awry," Cabana said. "It goes to the heart of age-old debates that have taken place in prison circles: the impact of environment, poverty, racism, even access to education."

About 35 percent of black Mississippians live below the poverty level, compared with 11 percent of whites, according to the census.

"The prison population has always housed large numbers of minorities and largely poor people," Cabana said. "Until we find some real solutions to the pockets of poverty that exist and how that poverty condemns some of those people to the lifestyle they're living, we're going to see prison populations that consist of poor whites and poor minorities."

In Mississippi, blacks make up 36.3 percent of the population, according to the census. Whites make up 61.4 percent.