Two weeks ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told television’s Charlie Rose that “A black male baby born today…stands a 1 in 3 chance ending up in jail.” The Washington Post’s Fact Checker calls it a “stale statistic.” Publicized by The Sentencing Project, the figure comes from a 2003 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report saying the statement would be true if 2001 incarceration rates remained constant.
The BJS study relied on “a time-consuming and difficult survey of prisoners to determine how many were in their first jail term of prisoners to determine how many were in their first jail term.” As it happens, the incarceration rate for black males dropped 20 percent between 2001 and 2013. The BJS report author, Thomas Bonczar, tells the Post, “It's likely the first lifetime incarceration rate for black males has declined. How much, I don't know.” The Sentencing Project’s Marc Mauer says it may be that the current figure is that about 1 in 4 black males can expect to end up incarcerated. “But even that lower figure should be highly disturbing, regardless of what one believes the causes may be,” he said. (A note that the Fact Checker doesn’t seem to know the difference between prisons and jails–the BJS study involved those in prison.)