Black Men in Prison – A Multi-faceted Problem

Racism, poverty, crime, the “war on drugs,” the deinstitutionalization of the mental-health system, and the prison industrial complex have created a mass-incarceration boom, with more than 2 million people in state and federal prisons, juvenile correctional facilities, jails, and other institutions.

Men of color, who make up 40 percent of the incarcerated population but only 13 percent of U.S. residents, are disproportionately affected by the mass-incarceration boom.

A sad man against a black album contrasted with the same man, happy against white

This means that hundreds of thousands of African-American men are missing from families, communities, governments, and economies. This is devastating to the men themselves, as well as to children, women, cities, civic systems, and economies.

There is also a loss of human and financial capital that is painful for communities already suffering under the weight of:

  • "White Flight"
  • Poverty
  • Political disenfranchisement
  • Food deserts
  • A decline in industrial activity
  • Dwindling employment opportunities

There is no question that the incarceration boom for black males is an urgent national problem that is debilitating men, women, children, families, communities, and economies.

The amount spent by governments on the corrections system is steadily rising — reaching as high as $80 billion in direct costs this year, up from $60 billion in 2017 — with few benefits.

Policymakers have long been challenged by this burden and have, in some cases, made strides in reducing the number of the incarcerated. But there has been limited attention and funding focused on creating pathways out of prison that keep black men from returning.  

All of this keeps African-American males and the people around them in a vicious cycle. Learn more about our approach for breaking the cycle.