50% of African American Men Arrested by Age 23

America's Broken Prison System

It's no secret in America that we as a society really enjoy sending people to prison for almost any crime. In fact, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world: 716 per 100,000 people. This leaves us with around 1.5 million prisoners, about 25% of the total for the entire world. It gets worse. 

The incarceration rate in this country has risen rapidly over the last 40 years and shows little signs of slowing.

Prison Inequality

Some people may be asking themselves if high incarceration rates are really such a bad thing and I could respond with an economic argument showing just how expensive prison is for society. But what appears even more telling to me is how society diverges on how to treat different groups of Americans. The picture above shows the huge disparity between incarceration for males and females. The ratio is about 15 : 1. This could mean that men commit more crimes, but it could also mean that men are treated more harshly by the justice system. 

Let's go further.

I titled my article with a statistic that I found shocking: 50% of black men are arrested by age 23. This is sadly true. If you don't believe me, you can check my sources here, here and here. If you are a young black man you are many many times more likely to find yourself in prison than a young white woman.

Percentage of Population Group Incarcerated

These numbers are so sad. If you were a black man who had not finished high school in 2008, there was a 37% chance that you would be in prison. Compare that to the .3% of college educated white men who were also imprisoned.

Set Up To Fail

Prison is in not helpful to prisoners in any way. A person serving jail time is taken away from their family, away from their job and forced to stop contributing in a meaningful way to society. Sometimes this prisoner may be a murderer, but sometimes they may be a person who shoplifted some food to feed their family.

Aside from the psychological harm that a prison term can cause, it further reduces the chances for success in our America. Think about it. When applying for a job there is always a question that asks about a criminal record and in most cases you are required to disclose everything that has happened in the last 7 - 10 years depending on where you live. If you are a 25 year old black man, there is greater than a 50% chance that you will have to say that you have been arrested. There is more than a 50% chance that your application will be put at the bottom of the pile. When given the choice, most employers would choose a candidate without a record over one with a record all else held equal. 

What else do we expect?

We say that in America everyone should be treated equally, but this is clearly not the case. There are so many ways that we hold people back in this country and incarceration is only one. We as a country need to take a stand and say that this is not fair. We need to give everyone a chance.

So please, stop putting everyone in jail.