Number of Blacks in Prison Nears 1 Million

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WASHINGTON - Come the new millennium, the number of African American adults behind bars will hit the million mark for the first time, according to an analysis of Justice Department statistics. That represents nearly an eightfold increase from three decades ago, when there were only 133,226 blacks in prison.

By 2000, roughly one in 10 black men will be in prison - a statistic with major social implications because prisoners don't have jobs, pay taxes or care for their children at home. And because many states bar felons from voting, at least one in seven black men will have lost the right to vote.

"These numbers are staggering," said Laurie Levensen, a former federal prosecutor and associate dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "We're incarcerating an entire generation of people."

Why blacks contribute about half of all prison inmates when they are only 13 percent of the U.S. population is subject to much speculation. Some specialists blame poverty or lack of opportunity.

Others say police concentrate in poor urban areas because street crimes such as drug dealing and armed robbery are more visible, and residents there demand more police protection.

The bottom line is that crime policy has become a substitute for public policy, said Jerome Miller, president of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, an Arlington, VA. legal reform group that analyzed the Justice Department data.
 
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