The Wisconsin State Journal published an AP article on this recent study yesterday:
More than three times as many black people live in prison cells as in college dorms, the government said in a report to be released today.
The ratio is only slightly better for Hispanics, at 2.7 inmates for
every Latino in college housing. Among non-Hispanic whites, more than
twice as many live in college housing as in prison or jail.
The numbers, driven by men, do not include college students who live
off campus. Previously released census data show that black and
Hispanic college students - commuters and those in dorms - far
outnumber black and Hispanic prison inmates.
Nevertheless, civil rights advocates said it is startling that blacks
and Hispanics are more likely to live in prison cells than in college
"It's one of the great social and economic tragedies of our time," said
Marc Morial, president and CEO of the Urban League. "It points to the
signature failure in our education system and how we've been raising
The Census Bureau released 2006 data Thursday on the social, racial and
economic characteristics of people living in adult correctional
facilities, college housing and nursing homes. It is the first in-depth
look at people living in "group quarters" since the 1980 census. It
shows, for example, that nursing homes had much older residents in 2006
than in 1980.
The new data have limitations. In addition to not including commuter
students, the data do not provide racial breakdowns by gender or age,
though they do show that males make up 90 percent of prison inmates.
Also, most prison inmates are 25 or older while 96 percent of people in
college housing are age 18 to 24.
The data show that big increases in black and Hispanic inmates occurred
since 1980. In 1980, the number of blacks living in college dorms was
roughly equal to the number in prison. Among Hispanics, those in
college dorms outnumbered those in prison in 1980.
There are many reasons black students do not reach college at the same
rate as whites, said Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and
education at Columbia University's Teachers College.
Black students are more likely to attend segregated schools with high
concentrations of poverty, less qualified teachers, lower expectations
and a less demanding curriculum, she said.
"And they are perceived by society as terrible schools, so it is hard
to get accepted into college," Wells said. "Even if you are a
high-achieving kid who beats the odds, you are less likely to have
access to the kinds of courses that colleges are looking for."
Students who don't graduate high school are much more likely to go to
prison, said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at
UCLA. Nearly 40 percent of inmates lack a high school diploma or the
equivalent, according to the census data.
"The criminal economy is one of the only alternatives in some of these
places," Orfield said. "You basically have the criminalization of a
whole community, particularly in some inner cities."
Blacks made up 41 percent of the nation's 2 million prison and jail
inmates in 2006. Non-Hispanic whites made up 37 percent and Hispanics
made up 19 percent.