- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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 Hispanic 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.

Civil rights advocates said it is startling that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to live in prison cells than in college dorms.

“It’s one of the great social and economic tragedies of our time,” said Marc H. Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League. “It points to the signature failure in our education system and how we’ve been raising our children.”

The U.S. Census Bureau has released 2006 data 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 sex or age, although the figures 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 why 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 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,” she said.

Students who don’t graduate from high school are much more likely to go to prison, said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles. Nearly 40 percent of inmates lack a high school diploma or the equivalent, census data show.

“You basically have the criminalization of a whole community, particularly in some inner cities,” he said.

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.

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