Following is a report written and produced for the Drug Truth Network by Drug War Facts Editor Doug McVay. It was broadcast as a 420 Drug War News item on March 24, 2013. You can listen to the full audio via the Drug Truth Network website.

Everything changes.

In 2002, the Justice Policy Institute issued a report titled “Cellblocks or Classrooms.”

That report's Finding Number 3 was: “Nearly a third More African American Men Are Incarcerated than in Higher Education.” Often shortened to the more media-friendly “more black men are in prison than college,” JPI has come under fire for that statement in recent years – most notably in the 2012 film by Janks Morton, Hoodwinked, but also by people such as Professor Ivory Toldson of Howard University. In his April 20, 2011 piece in Empower Magazine, “Cellblock vs. College: A Million Reasons There Are More Black Men In College Than In Prison And Why More Work Needs To Be Done,” Professor Toldson writes, quote:

“When reviewing Cellblocks or Classrooms, there’s no evidence that the authors intended to sensationalize problems facing black men in the United States. More meaningful and palatable lines like “choose classrooms over cellblocks” were written with more prominence. Today, the widespread and contentious notion that “there are more black men in jail than in college” is not the fault of the Justice Policy Institute. Rather, it is the fault of journalists looking for a sound bite, politicians trying to arouse a crowd, program managers and researchers who would rather assert the need to exist than to demonstrate the efficacy of their techniques, and the list goes on of people who feel the need to be intentionally provocative. Lost in the feedback are young black men who are trying to reconcile such an ominous conclusion with their reality.”

End quote.

Here then are the numbers.

A search through the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Post‐Secondary Education Data System, IPEDS, finds that in the 2009-2010 school year, there were 1,347,485 Black or African-American male students enrolled in Title IV 2- and 4-year colleges. This includes public as well as private, for-profit and nonprofit schools. This is also only how many were enrolled that year.

The Drug War Facts section on Race and Prison actually has newer data, so looking back at “Prisoners in 2010,” the report by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, we see that in 2010 there were a reported 561,400 non-Hispanic Black males under state and federal jurisdiction. The BJS also reports that there were 283,200 Black/African-American inmates of either gender in local jails that year. So there were a maximum of 844,600 Black/African-American men behind bars that year – many fewer than were in college.

Whether or not JPI was right in making that assertion back in 2002 is in many ways moot. The point is that today, that trite soundbyte is not true.

Things change. If you're an activist, or you engage at all in policy debate, it's important to keep up with these changes and stay current. Up-to-date fact items are always to be found on the Drug War Facts website at Drug War Facts dot org. Be sure to check back from time to time. You can keep track of new fact items as they're added by subscribing to our RSS feed, and also to our newsletter.

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