“Prison has become an almost ordinary life experience for poorly educated blacks” in the United States, Harvard University Prof. Lawrence Bobo told the National Institute of Justice annual crime research conference yesterday in Arlington, Va. Bobo, the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences, cited data showing that at any given time, one in 18 black Americans is under the supervision of the criminal justice system. A survey found that more than half of African-Americans have a friend or relative incarcerated.
Bobo said the main problem is not overt racial discrimination but rather an “interplay of factors,” including family breakdowns, the poor economy and longstanding legal and political forces in favor of long prison terms. The nation’s “mass incarceration powerfully diminishes the already weak employment prospects” of many poor people, Bobo said. His suggested solutions included reducing prison stays for non-violent convicts.