Black Men Show Little Signs of Progress in 40 Years
8/1/2014, 7:56 p.m.
Neal explained that the change in how we punish people in the state criminal justice system and adopted harsher penalties for all types of crimes was across the board that affected people that were arrested in roughly the same ways regardless of whether you were Black or White.
“However, as a fraction of the population, Blacks have always been more likely to be arrested than Whites, which is not surprising given the historical patterns of discrimination, lower earnings and labor market opportunities,” said Neal.
Black men over 20 years-old still face a double-digit unemployment rate, the highest rate among all adult worker groups. According to the Labor Department, the jobless rate for Black men was 10.9 percent compared to 4.9 percent for White men, 4.8 percent for White women and 9 percent for Black women.
The same economic crisis that crippled many Black families and robbed nearly half of all wealth from the Black community, also forced cash-strapped states to cut spending in the billion-dollar prison industry. The prison boom was just an unlikely casualty of the Great Recession, according to Neal.
Neal also said that the “Smart on Crime” initiative proposed by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013, that will ultimately affect the lives of thousands of nonviolent, drug offenders, was just “a drop in the bucket,” because those policies will mostly affect people doing time in federal prisons. Most offenders are locked up in local jails and state prisons.
Local jails, state and federal prisons combined house close to a million Black men.
“I’m not saying it’s a trivial thing, but when you’ve got a million people behind bars, a reduction of [less than 50,000] is a good start, but it’s nothing to write home about,” said Neal.
Neal said that if you’re a Black man 25-35 years-old without a high school diploma, you’re about as likely to have a job as you are to be in prison; under 25 without a high school diploma, you’re more likely to be in prison.
“You have to get to the 35 and above age group, before you’re more likely to have a job than be in prison, said Neal. “I don’t think the typical person on the street or the typical congressman knows how messed up things are.”
Neal added: “It’s important to know the truth.”
(Freddie Allen is NNPA’s Chief Washington Correspondent.)