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High Cost of Incarcerating Black Men

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Wednesday, October 8, 2014

INTRO: Black and Latino boys and men are facing more challenges than other folks. That’s their problem and their fault… you might say if you’re white or Asian. But Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus is finding a variety of people seeking justice for men of color. And they’re saying the state can’t afford the prison pipeline.

According to a study in 2012, white American men earn $27,000 a year, Latinos earn $15,000 and blacks earn just $7,000 a year. Arnold Chandler is a researcher from Oakland, California. He explains why black men are poor.

“Technological change that has reduced routine jobs, globalization, off-shoring of middle skill jobs to other countries that have lower wages, decline in unions particularly in Michigan, suburbanization of low skilled jobs, now this is an area which is also called spatial mismatch which has a particularly acute affect on African-American males.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation invited Chandler and others to Lansing to focus on boys and men of color. La June Tabron is Kellogg’s President.

“We’re not allowing these young men to tell their own stories.”

Tabron grew up in Detroit and went to the elite Cass Tech High School. She is an example of improving job and education prospects for women in the last couple decades. Yet for men, she says:

“Leadership in the African-American and men of color population is something that is desperately needed.”

Kellogg is in Battle Creek. But while La June Tabron was still the chief financial officer of the foundation, she moved from Southwest Michigan to within two streets of one the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit. It then borders Highland Park, which is even poorer. She’s personally invested.

“We also believe in place based programming and you know Michigan is one of our priority places.”

The research group called Justice Mapping shows the worst parts of Detroit at E. Canfield then the Grand River and I-96 areas. About 7 out of 1000 people go to prison from there. Then another 30 go to county jail. Cleveland, Houston and Indianapolis have neighborhoods with much higher incarceration rates. But Michigan is spending more money says Justice Mapping researcher Eric Cadora.

“So how is it that a place that is incarcerating people at a third of the rate that they’re being incarcerated in other regional comparative cities costs much more for fewer people? It turns out the length of time that Michiganders spend in prison is much longer than in other places.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men will go to prison in their lifetime. The incarceration rate of blacks is 7 times that of whites. Arnold Chandler says the U.S. is more oppressive than any regime in the world regarding mass incarceration.

“It was largely a policy decision. It’s not a product of behavioral changes. To put it in perspective, the same crime in 1970 that would have gotten you a year in jail got you 4-5 years in prison in the 2000’s.”

Arnold Chandler says that you could find a job in the ghetto, before 1970. However, that’s two generations now without jobs.

“When you concentrate poverty you concentrate everything associated with poverty: crime, violence, poor school quality and disinvestment.”

Black men and boys are slammed by these five or six forces plus the rise of single parent households. Then they’re fed into the prison system.

“That means the prison is pulling from here, recycling back and abetting this vicious cycle of disadvantage. This is why we talk about place and the need for place based interventions because it’s not a distributed phenomenon across the geographic landscape. It’s focused on particular areas.”

Each prisoner costs about $40,000 a year. Michigan has 44,000 of them. More than half are black. The vast majority of white and Asian men don’t get caught in this cycle.

At the meeting inside the Lansing Center, someone from the governor’s office spoke. Then came Mike Flanagan, Michigan’s Superintendent of Education. He was born in New York City in the 1950’s.

“I’m the oldest of eight. My dad was a G.I. bill guy. We move out to Long Island and if you haven’t noticed I’m not even African-American. And I had issues because immediately the Brooklyn kids dressed in a way that scared the hell out of the suburban parents. This kid may marry my daughter. He’s probably got a knife. Even a white kid had these things.”

So Flanagan got “suspended and thrown out and put into a different class for a while.”

“If that happened to me as a kid just cause I dressed a little different I can’t imagine what it must be like for some of you and others. And then we wonder why we’re not doing better in some of our urban education centers.”

Flanagan and foundations have been trying to help black men and boys since the 1990’s….believing they can stay away from prison if they get an excellent education in their neighborhoods starting at birth. Zero to five. But since this is not happening, they and the rest of Michigan are paying the price.

2 Responses to “High Cost of Incarcerating Black Men”

  1. Jim Casha says:

    Dammit Flanagan. How many times do we have to go through this?I thought you understood. When Rick spoke about starting prenatally in his education reform plan during his first ‘State of the State’ – and WJR’s Frank Beckmann laughed and asked you – you said you agreed. Why won’t you be the strongest voice for proper prenatal care? How many more children will suffer.

    If you want to help kids get an education you have to start BEFORE they are born! Not at ‘zero’, but at (-)9 months or, better yet, (-)12 months. Once they are born it’s too late.

    The way out of poverty is proper prenatal care, proper nutrition (foods high in choline) and NO alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Prenatal alcohol exposure – that – is the poverty trap. It makes no difference what color, rich or poor. A damaged brain at birth is bad news.

    It is the ‘womb to prison pipeline’ – not the school to prison pipeline. Help us Kellogg – please.

  2. steve hughes says:

    I really liked this story. Could someone write a book about a number of these young black men? Both those who ended up in prison and those who have jobs and families. I think it would have more potential to lend insight into the problem than current statistics alone. I want to understand the dynamics of the situation but feel handicapped by my white middle class background.

Leave a Reply to Jim Casha

Jason Sims, 14, Bangade McCarus, 13, Darian Ghee, 13(Jason's brother) and  Cameron Ghee, 13, cousin to the brothers.

Jason Sims, 14, Bangade McCarus, 13, Darian Ghee, 13(Jason's brother) and Cameron Ghee, 13, cousin to the brothers.

These boys live 5 blocks from the Kellogg Foundation President. Cameron Ghee and a dozen other neighborhood teens played basketball in the backyard of the McCarus house most days this season. It's the only court available to them. Most live in single-parent households.

These boys live 5 blocks from the Kellogg Foundation President. Cameron Ghee and a dozen other neighborhood teens played basketball in the backyard of the McCarus house most days this season. It's the only court available to them. Most live in single-parent households.

Statistics show that at least one of these boys will be incarcerated at some point in their lives.

Statistics show that at least one of these boys will be incarcerated at some point in their lives.

Mike Flanagan has spent ten years as the State Superintendent of Education.

Mike Flanagan has spent ten years as the State Superintendent of Education.

Arnold Chandler is an advocate, researcher, trainer and Internet strategist who helps nonprofits and foundations advance programs and policies focused on social and economic equity.  He worked with a team to reform the Oakland Police Department as part of a federal lawsuit settled in 2001.

Arnold Chandler is an advocate, researcher, trainer and Internet strategist who helps nonprofits and foundations advance programs and policies focused on social and economic equity. He worked with a team to reform the Oakland Police Department as part of a federal lawsuit settled in 2001.

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