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

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


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.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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