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Politics » More Black Men in Prison Today Than Enslaved in 1850, Author and Professor Says

More Black Men in Prison Today Than Enslaved in 1850, Author and Professor Says

Thus far, in the New World, African Americans have been able to survive the voyage during the Middle Passage, slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow and second-class citizenship in America. Although, on the surface, the appearance of change in the form of open acceptance and material gain is projected, this may not actually be the case for African American men.

Historically, the criminal justice system has targeted African American males in a manner that defeats mathematical logic. Now, data suggest the unthinkable — that there may be more African American males incarcerated currently than there were in the bondages of slavery. A U.S. Bureau of Justice Department report estimates that, as of 2008, there were more than 846,000 black men in prison.  This figure accounted for more than 40 percent of all inmates in correctional facilities.

In a recent interview, Michelle Alexander gave additional detail to these figures to suggest that “more African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850 before the Civil War began.” Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and a professor of law at Ohio State University. Her comments were made recently while addressing a group sponsored by the Pasadena branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In an interview that aired on Feb. 20 on CSPAN’s program, “Washington Journal,” Alexander indicated how incarceration is a form of legal discrimination similar to that our parents may have experienced during the time of Jim Crow. “Employment, housing, access to education” and “the right to vote” are all impacted when one is incarcerated. In summary, she postulates that incarceration is the newest form of economic and social disenfranchisement for young African American men. –torrance stephens, ph.d.

Torrance Stephens authors the blog Find him on


  1. Nancy Mulvey Forsyth on July 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    @the height of slavery there were 3,953,760 slaves both males and female) (cite:​ki/Slavery_in_the_United_S​tates) The total U.S. prison population (2009) was 2,292,133 (cite:​ki/Incarceration_in_the_Un​ited_States)

  2. Paul Duncan on July 8, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Black US Pop 
    1850: 3.6 million
    2010: 39 million

    Also whats with people calling them ‘slaves’ like its a name of a race of people? Start using ‘enslaved’. 

  3. Joe on July 8, 2011 at 12:05 am

    Pretty sure there are also more black men alive in the US. I wonder what the ratio is between then and now 😛

  4. GuestReality on July 8, 2011 at 5:53 am

    Sucks to be a criminal. Sucks even more to be black. Kill em all and then there won’t be so many blacks or any color for that matter in prison.

    • Kandyman on July 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      You coward. How about you reveal who you are, we could meet in some remote area of the country, and you could set the whole thing off. Allow me to be your first target…the devil is your father, coward.

      • kjhkngjnhkj f on July 11, 2011 at 11:04 pm


      • Trench_Raider on July 12, 2011 at 5:10 am

        While the clown you are replying to was out of line in his comment, you made yourself look like a blustering fool by playing the “internet tough guy” thing.  Pardon me while I roll my eyes at you…


      • Melly Mel on July 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm

        It intrigues me to hear Caucasians call black people violent when I am constantly reading about the many child molesters, wife killers, serial killers, family killers, extortionists and the very many priestly child abusers who are mainly white males. Caucasians, stop the facade. The entire world knows the real you. There is a new nigger in town and he is YOU! Have fun and be careful when leaving amerikkka.

    • melly mel on July 14, 2011 at 6:39 pm

      you must have a small penis?

    • lucubrate75 on December 27, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      You’re an idiot, you’re talking ethnic cleansing. Right? Just like your buddy Hitler, and look what happen to him in the end.

  5. Landon Ritchie on July 8, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    well we just can’t set them free just simply because its social disenfranchisement for young AA males. Simply stop doing the crimes!

    oh wait… you have an image to uphold… well sucks to be you then.

  6. Brook Byron Ellis on July 9, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Interesting article. It strikes me as very telling that to date there are 9,058 views of this fact based essay. Yet less than 100 views on a expose of an innovative educational program designed to combat the mass incarceration of young African American males that was published here the very same day. Speakes to our priorities as disenfranchised people. Let’s embrace some solutions to our most intractable social problems/challenges and leave the debate about the truth of our horrific illiteracy and incarceration rates on them. As an ex-offender/returning citizen, I have met Atty. Michelle Alexander in Detroit. Her numbers are based on empirical evidence and she is advocating strategic guidance as to the “Brutal Reality” and the work that must be done.

  7. Tyleraka on July 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Still a choice to do a crime…I chose to do right and don’t have to worry ab jail…and so can anybody else.

  8. Alpha30605 on July 11, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    If blacks did not commit more crimes than the rest of the population they would be fine. Too bad for them since most seem incapable of controlling themselves.

  9. Nope on July 12, 2011 at 1:11 am

    Blacks are not being targeted. 

    This is a myth which can easily be debunked by looking at US Bureau of Justice statistics.  Victim of crime surveys match arrest rates.  What that means is, they ask people who were the victims of crime to describe their assailant.  The number of people who say a black man robbed them or a white man robbed them matches the number of arrests that the police make.  In fact police seem to pursue white criminals slightly more successfully.

    It’s not discrimination, black men are choosing to break the law at many times the rate of any other group.  It is nobody’s fault but their own; it is not really comparably to slavery.  Personally I’m outraged at the number of crimes they’re committing.  Dr. Stephens – don’t you think it rather dishonest to try to turn it around so that the thousands of assaults, robberies and murders are somehow a crime by the white man?

    • Terry Calico on July 12, 2011 at 2:53 am

      These idiot “academics” can’t grasp the fact that Blacks get arrested more because they commit more crime.  Aside from victim self-reports, another easy way to prove that Blacks commit more crime is looking at the arrest rates and evidence for murder and car theft.  A murder CANNOT be police bias, because more dead bodies are found in Black areas.  As for stolen cars – once again, more in BLACK areas of the country – they require insurance claim forms and theft reports which align perfectly with arrest rates.

      Blacks commit more crimes hence they get arrested more.  Yeah I know, a difficult concept for academics to grasp.

      • Shawn Abrahams on July 12, 2011 at 5:16 am

        Crime is committed by people in desperation. Throughout history, people of lower socioeconomic status commit more crimes in non rural areas because they don’t have the security other classes do. It’s not the choice of the African American that their ancestors had been ripped from there home land, treated as less than human, had the intelligence beaten out of them to disgorge free thinking, subjected to horrid racism  discrimination and lack of education and now in america are subjected to harder judgement 4 to 1 when compared to white counter parts of similar if not identical crimes. Those are facts. So yes it is their choice, as much as it was your choice to root for your local sports team, to have the same political views as the people who raised you, to dress in gender appropriate clothing, to go to elementary, middle, and high school and to believe in what ever religion you hold dear. All your choices right?

        • Anonymous on July 12, 2011 at 5:47 am


        • Ron on July 12, 2011 at 9:10 am

          If this were true, Shawn, then the level of crime committed by black males would be matched by black females. Not so. Too, those in rural areas have less access to social services than those residing in urban areas. And there are many social services geared towards minorities that are frowned upon when requested by low income whites. Lastly, in the United States, according to poverty statistics, there are 2 1/2 times as many whites in poverty as there are blacks, so lower socio-economic status can’t be the reason for the astronomical crime rates committed by blacks compared to whites. If poverty were the excuse (as you try to claim) then those 2 1/2 times as many whites living in poverty would be committing crimes at 2 1/2 times the rate of low income blacks. Instead, statistics PROVE that the crime rates of blacks is much higher, even though there are far fewer living below the poverty line. And even when the FBI deceptively lumps Hispanics with whites in their “perpetrator” categories to inflate the “white” perpetrator numbers , blacks STILL commit more crimes than this combination of whites and Hispanics. When you compare racial crime statistics on a per capita basis rather than sheer numbers, the statistics become even more warped.

        • Trench_Raider on July 13, 2011 at 6:09 am

          And on cue some clown tries the “black commit more crimes because of economic disadvantages” line. This excuse falls flat when you consider two things:
          -The disparity between black crime rates and that of other groups carries over into non-economicly motivated crimes such as sexual assault.
          -When you isolate the percentage of the White population that is below the poverty line their crime rate is still much lower than that of blacks of a similar socio-economic status.

          Sorry, son.  Crime is always a choice.


      • Arnikadavis on July 21, 2011 at 3:53 am

        And that’s why so many black men are being exonerated by DNA, I detest uneducated racist!!!  Anyone who thinks racism is dead, come check out these idiots on the internet!!!

  10. Anonymous on July 12, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Too much keepin it real.  Real life isn’t a rap video.  

  11. Anonymous on July 12, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Too much keepin it real.  Real life isn’t a rap video.  

  12. Terry Calico on July 12, 2011 at 2:50 am

    If Blacks stopped committing crimes they would stop being incarcerated for them.  Hard concept to grasp, I know.

    • Dbtechy on July 13, 2011 at 10:39 am

      truth is, a lot of blacks in prison were targeted and prosecuted for crimes that others (mainly whites) are not targeted for.  In addition, there is a system in place to target blacks.  In any natural order of system, you will witness some equality when man is not involved.  The sun does not discriminate. 

      • Anonymous on July 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm

        Truth is, you’re full of shit.

  13. Trench_Raider on July 12, 2011 at 5:15 am

    As other have pointed out, blacks are not “targeted” by the criminal justice system.  They are incarcerated in percentages similar to that of their representation in the ranks of those who commit crimes.  This is confirmed by both the FBI uniform crime report and victim self reporting studies.

    The author of the OP is a fool with an agenda.

    Finally, please don’t use the term “African-American” for blacks who were born in the US…because it’s simply not apropriate.  Despite the fact I’m White, I far more of an “African-American” than the vast, vast majority of those who claim the title…because I was born on the African continent.

  14. NATUREBOY69 on July 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    There arent enough Blacks in prison seeing all the shootings and flash mobs that have plagued the once nice cities across the U.S.

  15. Herb Tookes on October 19, 2011 at 4:56 am

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  16. lucubrate75 on December 27, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    And it would continue to be that way if not higher, until Blacks release that it is the curse God put upon us (Israelites) and the only way it will be broken is by asking for forgiveness and following God’s commandments. See documentary The Curse of the Israelites on YouTube, and read Deuteronomy, it makes sense to me. They better wake up and get their souls right, before it is too late.

    • truthhurts on January 29, 2014 at 10:41 am

      I laugh at ignorance, normally I just read these racist comments and just shake my head. Black people please stop wasting ur time arguing with people who hate u because of ur skin color. The fact is that they believe that we are their slaves forever, and that our children and their children would also be there slaves. America never ended slavery, they had to create another way to make us slaves. Blacks became victims to america’s most henious acts against humans in the name of medicine. Incarceration was the best way for the government, the military, and doctors to use experimental drugs and procedures on blacks instead of monkeys or rats. It was all about money. Black female and male inmates were injected with cancer cells, plutonium, and even animal parts. I challenge anybody to do your research. This country has always been evil to blacks. Then they turn around and call you criminals, as if they had nothing to do with it. The creation of the ghetto was started by whites in Chicago. Blacks were doing good, they were business owners, whites didn’t want them around so what did they do? They came up with the hydepark improvement act, which did nothing but removed blacks out of the community with terrorist attacks, and bullying tactics. Blacks were forced to move into buildings known as projects. These type of living conditions, along with more laws from a government looking to capitalize off of these conditons, created crime in every ghetto in america. This is why they all look the same. It was and is today a sucessful project. Your Bible says you wrestle not against flesh and blood but of principality’s. For all of u christians that don’t know, principality’s mean GOVERNMENTS not humans. White people in america heres your fact. Your government of white men have figured a way to deceive the world by imprisoning black men and using them as slaves. Inmates are doing more than making tags. Why do u think ur loosing your jobs? Prison is big business, and when u create laws and condusive environments for a group of people to commit crimes, this is going to be the result everytime. And ignorant people who don’t read or do research like yourselves will always choose hate over truth. So dont tell me that condusive conditoning is not the reality. Just look at yourself and read these commits. You hate a group of people that were taken from their own country, enslaved, had to fight for God given rights (beyond civil), people who watch their children die in the streets by police officers, and not to mention decrimination of all sorts. Your a country that refuse to apologizefor your ancestors brutal acts, yet teaches that hitler was a evil man. Your hypocrites with a privelaged attitude. Butmost importantly your also conditioned, just like blacks who think your God is our God. Not true black people. Where do u think they Got this idea that you and your children will always be their property. WAKE UP THEY ARE SHOWING U HOW MUCH THEY HATE U.