A number of responses have linked higher numbers of Blacks in lower-income neighborhoods and some have reference single-parent homes with this question. These are only part of the answer.
What that does not address is the skewed percentage of Blacks in prison versus their representative numbers in society. For example, Washington DC prison population is 92.8% Black, yet only 60% of the general population is Black. In Illinois, while Blacks represent only 15% of the state population, they represent 60% of its prisoners. A death penalty study in Philadelphia revealed that:
a careful analysis of race and the death penalty in Philadelphia which reveals that the odds of receiving a death sentence are nearly four times (3.9) higher if the defendant is black
This distortion has led many to look for other reasons beyond neighborhoods or single-parent homes for the large numbers of minorities in prison. What research studies are showing is that there is a complex set of dynamics in play. These dynamics include socio-economic profiling, racial profiling, lack of access to positive role models, lack of income and resources, and disadvantages within the education and legal systems.
Numerous studies have shown that white defendants are more likely to be given a suspended sentence or probation versus incarceration for minor offenses. Schools in poor neighborhoods get terrible reputations which often makes it difficult for even excellent students to get accepted into college. Students who do not graduate with a high school diploma are more likely to end up in prison.
To break the cycle caused by this complex set of dynamics, people point to intervening in schools, after-school programs, and families to provide better resources, role models, and choices. Prejudice and bias in college admissions and hiring for jobs need to be eliminated.
And, while this statement will not be popular, there will need to be less "entitlement" mentality from the youth population than I currently see. The idea that society "owes" youth because the older generation has created a mess of society is hurting our youth. Many feel entitled to benefits and services without working for them. This idea is filtering down to even the youngest children and will hurt them as they grow up. We are creating a society of young adults who feel entitled without having worked towards anything.
The interventions aimed at providing better resources (including jobs), role models, and choices (decision-making skills) for youth will benefit all of society into the future and help us reverse some of the barriers we have unintentionally or intentionally created.
A couple of points bear considering. One is definitely economics. In spite of all of the strides that we have made toward equality, it is still a fact that blacks and other minorities tend to outnumber whites when it comes to poverty. As a result, they do not always live in the best neighborhoods, so they get involved in gangs and in doing illegal things because, as a simple fact of economics, you will make more money faster as a drug runner than you will working for minimum wage. I saw this attitude a lot when I taught in a New York City public school.
A second aspect still deals with the idea of racial profiling. The court system still favors the white defendant, even subconsciously.
However, an even more powerful detractor from the success of the black male as a group is learned helplessness. Programs that were aimed to promote opportunity have become cruthce3s and have given an attitude of entitlement to recipients who feel as though they are owed something whether or not they work for it. WEB Dubois, one of the founders of the NAACP, ultimately abandoned the program he helped create because of this. He was not looking for a handout for blacks but for a means by which they could succeed. He managed to succeed without assistance, going on to be the first black man to earn a PhD from Harvard. He did it because he worked harder, he beat the whites by being more educated, better spoken, more talented - whatever he needed to do. That was the attitude he wanted to engender among the black youth of the next generation, but wheat instead happened was the entitlement generation (this is NOT, however, JUST a minority phenomenon).
Many black men are growing up in poverty. Poverty brings about a sense of anger and/or helplessness/lack of control in their lives. In order to feel that they have control, they may resort to violence, drugs, and other means of trying to feel differently about their circumstances. A young black man growing up in the city may feel that he has no opportunities for higher education and therefore focuses his interests elsewhere.
Social Immobility/Reproduction Theory-This idea simply proposes that individuals are destined to fulfill predifined roles that ensure the perpetuation of class society. Jay Macleod wrote a great book that addresses this very issue, Ain’t No Makin’ I" might shatter perceptions about cause/solution.
One answer is the drug war that started in the 1980s. Mandatory sentencing laws were passed as politicians repeatedly took on a "Get tough on crime" approach to their campaigns.
Mandatory sentencing meant that judges had no discretion on what they sentenced convited criminals to for some crimes. Possession of five grams of crack cocaine, for example, netted a mandatory prison sentence of five years. Crack cocaine was much more widely used in poorer neighborhoods in major cities, where the percentage of African-Americans was much higher. So more blacks were sentenced to prison.
The emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation has created a brutal cycle where those with prison records often have little economic alternative to returning to crime, especially when they return to the same poverty and the same neighborhoods as before.
Whether a young man's skin is black, white or any other color should not matter. We need to find a way to help all young men develop a strong sense of self and pride in themselves through education.
A high percentage of black children grow up in single parent homes, which does nothing to help them grow up in a stable, nurturing environment. As is the case with many teens--black or white--who go astray of school and the law, learning begins in the home.
Two schools of thought. One says that too many black men grow up in areas where they don't have enough opportunities to get good educations and good jobs. This leads too many of them to commit crimes.
A second school of thought says that there is something wrong with the culture of too much of black society. It says that black men are not encouraged to succeed by their culture (this is like the Bill Cosby argument to some extent).
I wish to retract and clarify my previous post.
My first source looks at black men between the ages of 18 and 18 (the current generation or so). The idea that more black men are in prison than in college is false for this specific age group.
My second source does not appear to discriminate between age groups, in which case there are indeed more black men in prison than in college.
However, the statistic about the reverse situation in 1980 is still well worth looking into.
These two sources differ in perspective and representative data, but are bridged and reconciled by this brief statement from USATODAY:
Myth No. 3: There are more black men in prison than in college.
This is an unfair comparison....
So the more accurate statement is this: There are more than three times as many college-age black men attending higher education institutions than are locked up in this nation's jails and prisons.
Likewise, it's silly to compare odds of going to college with going to prison. One is possible throughout your entire life. The other is generally possible only for a brief period of education.
Apologies for the misinformation. I jumped a gun or two.
But in my own conclusion, our current generation of black men break the stereotype. It is clear that things are changing for the better if we focus our perspective on the current generation of young black men rather than the entire population.
I hate to break it to you, but your claim is no longer true.
According to the 2005 Census Bureau (refered to by the washington post fact checker), you will see that there are 5 times as many black people in college than prison, and 2.5 times as many in college than those incarcerated. (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2007/10/young_black_males_headed_for_e_1.html)
I know that Obama has claimed your fact is true, but it is not. It was true in the year 2000 (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle-old/252/jpistudy.shtml), but is not the case today. From the same source, this also wasn't the case in 1980 either, at which point it was reversed at 3 college students vs 1 in prison.
You may want to think instead about why these numbers are changing rather than focusing on an outdated statistic from a long gone past.