We’ve Reached #cut50 For Young Black Men


Here’s some good news for MLK Day. The incarceration rate for young black men is now down more than half since 2001:

The not-so-good news is that this has nothing to do with better criminal justice policies or efforts to create opportunities for people of color. It’s because of lead. The younger you are, the more likely you are to have grown up in a (mostly) lead-free environment, and that means you’re less likely to have committed a felony or gotten sent to prison. Because prison sentences in America tend to be long, de-incarceration lags falling crime rates by a fair amount, but eventually it does catch up.

You’ll note that, generally speaking, black incarceration has fallen more than white incarceration. The reason for this is simple: the biggest victims of lead poisoning in the 1960-90 era were residents of urban cores, which had more lead paint and higher concentrations of gasoline lead than other areas. These residents were disproportionately black, so when lead levels went up it affected blacks more strongly than whites. But when leaded gasoline was banned and lead poisoning declined, that also affected blacks more strongly than whites. Black crime rates fell more steeply than white crime rates, and now black incarceration is falling more steeply than white incarceration.

We’re still at nothing close to parity, of course. Lead explains some things, but it doesn’t explain the stain of racism and greed in men’s hearts. This is America’s original sin, and it will take more than an EPA regulation to overcome it.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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