Black Incarceration Didn’t “Explode” Under the 1994 Crime Bill

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


The LA Times reports today that when Bernie Sanders talks about racial issues, he tends to focus on black incarceration rates:

At campaign events, he labels a national embarrassment the rate at which America imprisons black men — a rate that exploded under the landmark crime bill signed by President Bill Clinton.

The Times presents this claim without evidence. It is, apparently, now in the same category as the sun rising in the east and cigarettes causing lung cancer. It just is.

Except that it isn’t. We don’t have formal historical records of incarceration rates by race, but there are plenty of good estimates. The National Academies of Science produced one as part of its recent report, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, and you can see it on the right (it includes both state and federal prisoners). The incarceration rate for blacks is indeed a national scandal, but not one that was affected one way or the other by the 1994 crime bill. There were plenty of problems with that bill, and it’s perfectly all right to loathe it. But it had almost no effect on mass incarceration in general, nor did it affect black incarceration rates more than slightly.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate