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May 2, 1990

Washington, D.C.

918 F St., N.W. * Suite 501 * Washington, D.C. 20004 * (202) 628-0871 * FAX (202) 628-1091

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak before the Subcommittee today on these important issues.

The drug problem in our society is clearly one which is very serious and which concerns all Americans. Although substance abuse cuts across, all class and racial lines, the impact of the drug problem has probably been greatest among low-income and minority communities. In my testimony today, I would like to focus in particular on the impact of the war on drugs as it affects Black and Hispanic communities.


In February of this year, my organization released a report on race and the criminal justice system. The report, "Young Black Men and the Criminal Justice System: A Growing National Problem," received extensive attention and shocked much of the nation. The report documented that almost one out of four Black men in the age group 20-29 is under the control of the criminal justice system -- prison, jail, probation or parole. This contrasts with one in sixteen white males and one in ten Hispanic males.

These figures for Black males, shocking as they are, actually understate the extent of the problem since our study only did a one-day count of the criminal justice system. If we were able to calculate the rates for an entire year, or ten-year period, the number of Black males under criminal justice control would be considerably higher than one in four.

There is also strong reason to believe that the figures for Hispanics represent an undercount. There has been a great deal of inconsistency in the way in which Hispanics are counted in criminal justice populations, and for many categories, there exist a large number of offenders for whom no data exist on ethnicity. Because of this, it is reasonable to conclude that the rate of criminal justice control for young Hispanic males is higher than one in ten. Also, since Hispanics are counted in the white criminal justice populations, the rate of criminal justice control for non-Hispanic whites is therefore less than the one in sixteen which we were able to document.

Our report further found that the number of young Black men in the criminal justice system -- 609,690 -- far exceeded the number of Black men of all ages enrolled in higher education -- 436,000. These two figures taken together paint a very disturbing picture.

As we noted in our report:

For the Black community in general, nearly one-fourth of its young men are under the control of the criminal justice system at a time when their peers are beginning families, learning constructive life skills, and starting careers .... Unless the criminal justice system can be used to assist more young Black males in pursuing these objectives, any potential positive contributions they can make to the community will be delayed, or lost forever.

Our report estimated that the direct costs to the criminal justice system for the control of the 609,000 Black men in their twenties was $2.5 billion. Each offender who is incarcerated in a state prison costs the taxpayers at least $16,000 a year. l/ Corrections costs have now reached the point where they are having a serious impact on state funding for necessary social services. In Michigan, for example, state spending for corrections increased from 2.8 percent of the budget in 1984 to 7.2 percent in 1988.2/ The National Conference of State Legislators reports that state spending on corrections increased by an average of 14.2 percent last year, contributing to "serious budget problems" that more than half the states will face in 1990.3/

1 The Corrections Yearbook, George M. and Camille Graham Camp, Criminal Justice Institute, 1989.

2 "Drug Cases Clog the Courts," Debra Cassens Moss, ABA Journal, April 1990.

3 The State Fiscal Outlook: 1990 and the Coming Decade, National Conference of State Legislators, February 1990.



It is important to analyze the factors which have led us to this distressing situation. The reasons behind this are complex. Many are long-standing problems; others are a result of more recent criminal justice policies. I would like to outline some of the primary causes of this problem, and then to discuss the impact which the war on drugs has had.

1. "Get Tough" Sentencing Policies

The U.S. Sentencing Commission and legislatures in almost all fifty states have adopted a variety of increasingly harsh sentencing laws in the past decade. In addition, parole release policies have become more restrictive in many states. The combined impact of these policies is that our prison and jail populations have doubled in the past decade, to the point where there are now more than one million Americans behind bars. Prisons in 41 states are under court order regarding overcrowding and conditions of confinement. Record numbers of offenders are now also straining our probation and parole systems.

Mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws have played a significant role in leading to these higher rates of criminal justice control, particularly in regard to prison populations. Two recent highly publicized cases illustrate this:

The American Lawyer reported on the case of Susana Sanchez-Robles, a migrant worker and mother of five whose husband had left her, leaving the family on welfare. Ms. Sanchez-Robles drove a drug-laden van across the border from Mexico, and received a mandatory ten-year prison term. Her five-year old cries every evening. Says Ms. Sanchez-Robles: "I try to feel strong, but my strength is just totally defeated when I remember my children.4/

Richard Winrow is a 22-year old Los Angeles man who was abandoned by his father as a boy. He and his seven siblings grew up poor, and Winrow ended up dropping out of high school and working at low-wage jobs. A recent conviction for possession of 5 1/2 ounces of cocaine, a relatively small amount, was his third drug offense. Under new federal drug laws, Winrow was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.5/

The dramatic increases in incarceration, parole and probation rates resulting from our "get tough" policies have affected all segments of society. The increase, however, has been most significant for Blacks and other minorities, who were already disproportionately represented in the system.

The rise in criminal justice populations has occurred without any clear-cut relationship to the crime rate. FBI reports for the past decade indicate that crime rates have had periods of both decline and increase during these years, but that overall there was only a 2 percent increase in crime rates between 1979-88. Crime rates rose again in 1989, even though the nation recorded the highest increase ever in its prison population.

4 "Scott Wallace, "Mandatory Minimums, Mandatory Mess," The Champion, May 1990.

5 Henry Weinstein and Charisse Jones " 'Guinea Pig' for Drug War or a Hardened Criminal?" The Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1990.

2. Criminal Justice Focus on Crimes of the Poor

The criminal justice system has historically been focused much more on "crime in the streets" than "crime in the suites." Although we have seen some change in recent years in the prosecution of white collar offenses, crimes of the poor have always received greater attention from the criminal justice system. Since Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately represented among low-income people, this has contributed to their over-representation in the criminal justice system. This does not imply that crimes of the poor are necessarily either more or less serious than crimes of the wealthy, but rather, that we have a system that functions at least in part in a very discretionary manner.

3. Race and the Criminal Justice System

There has been a good deal of debate about the extent to which race influences criminal justice decision making. A recent study by the RAND Corporation concludes that race was not a factor in sentencing decisions in California.6/ It is important to note, though, that California has a relatively rigid determinate sentencing system, which allows for less variability in sentencing outcomes than in many other states.

6 "Race and Imprisonment Decisions in California," Stephen Klein, Joan Petersilia, Susan Turner, Science, February 16, 1990.

Our report found evidence that the criminal justice system may be treating Black offenders differently than white offenders. The number of young white males who are incarcerated, 247,000, slightly exceeds the number of incarcerated Black males, 212,000. The number of white males receiving probation, though, 697,000, vastly exceeds the figure for Black males, 305,000. While the nature of the offense or prior criminal history may explain these figures, a close examination of this disparity should be undertaken to determine to what extent racial bias is a factor.

As the authors of the RAND study point out, as well as many others, race may play a more prominent role at the level of arrest and prosecution, where greater discretion may be exercised by police and prosecutors. This discretion may not always be racially motivated, but it may have a racial impact. To the extent that this is the case, a task for the courts is to attempt to offset any disparity that may have occurred through appropriate sentencing.

4. Declining Social and Economic Support in Black Communities

The relationship between social and economic conditions and individual crime rates is a complex one. Not all poor people or unemployed people commit crimes, nor do all wealthy or employed persons refrain from committing crimes. Personality traits, family support, community constraints, and other factors all influence individual behavior and the propensity to commit crime.

Yet, as criminologist Elliott Currie has noted, "The evidence for a strong association, between inequality and crime is overwhelming ... It isn't, accidental, then, that among developed countries, the United States is afflicted simultaneously with the worst rates of violent crime, the widest spread of income inequality, and the most severe public policies toward the disadvantaged."7/

The stresses, strains, and lack of opportunity present in so many minority communities increase the likelihood, that individuals within that community will engage in criminal activities, whether as a means of obtaining money, to support a drug habit, for a challenge, or for other reasons.

Given these factors, we need to look at the deteriorating social and economic support in the Black community. Essentially, we find that on a broad range of variables, the situation of Blacks in our society has declined over the past decade. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that total appropriations for low income programs that are not entitlements fell by 54 percent from FY 81 to FY 88, when adjusted for inflation. This included support for job training, health and social services, and housing programs. Also, although the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by 3.2 million during this period, spending for food stamps decreased by 15 percent when adjusted for inflation. Black households make up 36 percent of all households receiving food stamps. Overall, these cuts affect Blacks and other minorities disproportionately, since they are disproportionately poor.8/

5. Lack of Opportunity and Sense of Hopelessness

An additional factor contributing to this situation is the most difficult to quantify, yet in some ways the most significant. In many communities today, young people growing up have little hope for the future. It is one thing for a college student to work at a fast food restaurant as a summer job. It is entirely different for a young person to take on this kind of job when there is little, expectation of rising above this entry level.

The numbers in our report were not as shocking to most people in the Black community. Instead they confirmed what many have recognized for years: for Black males, the criminal justice system has become almost an inevitable aspect of growing up. This is not to say that it is a "rite of passage," or an event that is welcomed, but merely, that it is viewed as a part of the life cycle which is almost unavoidable. This is a very sad commentary on our society.

7 Elliott Currie, Confronting Crime, Pantheon, NY, 1985, pp. 146, 171.

8 Still Far from the Dream: Recent Developments in Black Income, Employment, and Poverty. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, D.C., October 1988.


A final factor contributing to increased involvement in the criminal justice system, particularly, among Black Americans, is the war on drugs, and the means by which this war is being waged. This has been the result of two factors.

First, the drug problem has been defined basically as a law enforcement problem, and not a social problem. In terms of our political rhetoric, our funding priorities, and our policy discussions, we have primarily chosen an approach which emphasizes police and prisons over prevention and treatment. This is not a new approach, or one which Mr. Bennett's office has initiated unilaterally. Most states and localities have taken this approach for many years, with unfortunately, little impact on either drug use, availability or drug-related crime.

Second, although drug use and abuse occurs among all groups in society, drug law enforcement is disproportionately weighted toward inner city, low-income drug use, again primarily affecting Blacks and Hispanics. A few statistics, illustrate this problem. FBI data indicate that Blacks make-up an increasing percentage of drug arrests, having increased from 30 to 38 percent of the total between 1984 and 1988. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Blacks make up only 12 percent of those who use illegal drugs.9/

In Florida, Blacks now make up 73.3 percent of all prison admissions for drug offenses, compared to 53.6 percent for all other offenses.10/

If the war on drugs continues in its present fashion, our prisons will become increasingly filled with Black youth. The plight of young Black men and the Black community which we described in our report will only worsen.


I do not believe that, the large number of Black males within the criminal justice system necessarily represents an intended consequence of our crime control policies. Unfortunately, however, as an unintended consequence of scores of individual sentencing laws, use of discretion in the criminal justice system, and funding priorities, we have created a true crisis for the Black community, for the criminal justice system, and for a nation that hopes to provide freedom and opportunity for all citizens. A continuation of the war on drugs in the manner in which it has been fought, no matter how well-intended, will only exacerbate this situation.

If we wish to address this problem in a serious manner, policymakers and criminal justice leaders need to respond in a comprehensive manner. Elements of such a strategy include:

9 Sam Meddis, "Drug arrest rate is higher for blacks; USA Today, December 20, 1989.

10 Austin, James and Aaron David McVey, "The Impact of the War on Drugs," National Council on Crime and Delinquency, San Francisco, 1989.

1. Increase Diversion from the Criminal Justice System

Many young and minor offenders are only stigmatized by their contact with the criminal justice system, without necessarily receiving either appropriate supervision or support. Opportunities exist to divert many of these offenders to organizations and individuals who can better focus on the problems of Black, Hispanic, and poor youth.

*As a result of our report, for example, Black community leaders in Memphis have formed a chapter of the 100 Black Men Incorporated. The group's goal is to reduce the number of Black men going into the criminal justice system. Its activities will include establishing mentor programs, developing mechanisms for keeping Black youth in school, and working with young offenders in the juvenile justice system.

Policymakers can encourage development of programs such as these, and court officials can divert more defendants into them, thereby beginning to reduce the extent of criminal justice control in many communities.

2. Sentencing to Ameliorate Racial Disparities

Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probation officers all have a unique and important opportunity to lessen the drastic impact which the justice system has had on Blacks and Hispanics. That opportunity comes at the time of sentencing. The courtroom sentencing process should include a full examination of the circumstances of both victim and offender, and an analysis of community support and supervision mechanisms which may be able to contribute to appropriate sentencing options. The goals of this process should be several: to assess public safety concerns; to restore victims to the extent possible; to order appropriate and constructive sanctions in the community; and, to reduce the chances that offenders will return to the system. As an organization familiar with sentencing programs and sentencing reform efforts throughout the country, our staff knows that these are attainable goals.

Court officials should also establish mechanisms to monitor whether minority offenders are appropriately represented in non-incarcerate sentencing alternatives, such as community corrections programs, house arrest and electronic monitoring. If disparities exist, an analysis of the reasons for this should be undertaken. In the juvenile justice area, The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is currently developing policy recommendations to respond to the disproportionate incarceration of minority youth. These may serve as a model which could be adopted for the criminal justice system.

3. Restore Appropriate Judicial Discretion

White collar offenders such as Ivan Boesky and Oliver North receive a full consideration of appropriate sentencing options. For many of the indigent defendants filling up our nation's prisons, mandatory and guideline sentencing virtually prohibit any consideration of alternative sentencing options. Abuse of judicial discretion needs to be carefully monitored, but use of judicial discretion to respond to individual and community needs at sentencing should be encouraged.

4. Encourage Courts to Make Greater Use of Alternatives to Incarceration

Incarceration is by far the most costly component of the criminal justice system. It has also not proved to be very productive as a means of reducing crime. A variety of community-based sanctions exist which have been demonstrated to be appropriate punishments for a wide range of offenders. These include restitution to victims, community service work, intensive probation supervision, and provisions for treatment programs, education, and employment.

My organization, The Sentencing Project, has helped develop many programs that offer courts alternatives to prison in a range of cases, and we have seen courts accept these alternatives in well over half the cases presented. We know that judges can and will make more use of alternatives, if given the opportunity to do so at sentencing.

5. Reduce Lengthy and Inefficient Prison Terms

Mandatory sentencing laws and lengthier prison terms have resulted in high costs, with only relatively modest gains in crime control. Prisoners are prevented from committing crimes in the community while they are locked up but this represents only a small fraction of all crimes. A 1978 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that to achieve a 10 percent reduction in crime, New York would have had to increase its prison population by 263 percent and Massachusetts by 310 percent.11/

The massive increase in incarceration and lengthening of prison terms provides almost no long-term benefits in reduction of recidivism. The most recent Justice Department study of this issue shows that recidivism rates, while very high, are virtually identical for prisoners who serve anywhere from one to five years.12/ Therefore, "getting tough" results in high corrections costs, but leaves us with offenders who are no less likely to commit future crimes.

Reducing lengthy prison terms by itself is not the answer to crime. What it would accomplish though, is to relieve the burden on an overcrowded system to reduce the impact of the system on minorities, and to free up tax dollars to be used for prevention, a more effective means of crime control.

11 National Research Council, Deterrence and Incapacitation: Estimating the Effects of Criminal Sanctions on Crime Rates, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, 1978.

12 Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1983," Washington, D.C., April 1989.

6. Require Racial/Ethnic Impact Statements from the Office of National Drug Control Policy

Given the serious impact of drugs and the drug war on minority communities, I would suggest that the Office of National Drug Control Policy be required to submit an annual report on the impact of its policies and funding priorities on racial and ethnic communities. Such a report might include the degree to which funding is made available to minority communities and organizations, the impact of prosecution and incarceration on these communities, and the number of persons receiving drug treatment services. This type of analysis would help to provide a focus for policy considerations regarding minority communities.

7. Develop More Accurate Reporting Methods for Hispanics

As noted above, there is reason to believe that Hispanics are undercounted in the criminal justice system due to inconsistencies in reporting methods and lack of data. It is important to develop policies and procedures that are consistent nationwide in order to assess the impact of criminal justice policies on Hispanic communities, and to enable the criminal justice system to respond more appropriately to its varied populations.

8. Restore a Balanced Perspective on the Relative Role of Criminal Justice Sanctions and Social and Economic Supports

The criminal justice system does not necessarily provide the best forum for reducing crime. As the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section's Special Committee on Criminal Justice in a Free Society reported, of approximately 34 million serious crimes committed against persons or property in 1986, 31 million never resulted in arrest and only several hundred thousand resulted in felony convictions and imprisonment. Simply put, law enforcement and court officials could, under the best of conditions, effectively prosecute and punish only a small portion of overall criminal activity.13/

Our continued excessive emphasis on a law enforcement strategy to fight drugs fails to address the root causes of the drug problem. Our emphasis on punitive criminal justice remedies distracts us from more fundamental and potentially far-reaching questions: why is it that citizens of one of the wealthiest nations and of all social classes use illegal substances to the extent that Americans do today?

For inner city and low-income communities, these root causes are certainly more closely tied to poverty, lack of opportunity, poor education and health care, and lack of hope for the future, than to any lack of jail and prison cells.

At the same time we have been waging a law enforcement war, with its own negative effects upon young Black males, conditions for Black communities have worsened on other fronts as well. A new study by the National Center for Children in Poverty of Columbia University documents that half of Black children and 40 percent of Hispanic children under the age of six now live in poverty.14/ It should be clear to those of us within the criminal justice system as well as others, that unless we effectively address issues of poverty immediately, we are likely to see the next generation of Black males enter the criminal justice system at a rate even higher than one in four.

We have a choice. We can spend money on prisons, and on policies that are guaranteed to fill them with people who don't need to be in them, including many young Black men, or we can spend more time, energy, creativity and money to keep more people out of the system entirely. Funding for poverty-fighting, crime-preventing programs should be viewed from the long-term perspective, as a preventive measure which will reduce criminal justice costs in the future.

13 Criminal Justice in Crisis, American Bar Association (Chicago 1988) pp. 4,5.

14 Spencer Rich, "Report Says Children Under 6 Have Highest Poverty Rate," The Washington Post, April 15, 1990.


Of the scores of editorials which appeared in response to our report (see Appendix) almost all uniformly endorsed the range of policy recommendations I have suggested here. This reaction shows that the public may be much more ready for change than many policymakers have led us to believe.

The funding and policy decisions we make today regarding our approach to the drug problem will have a direct impact on the next generation of Black men. As an editorial in the Charleston (S.C.) Post/Courier noted, "If the festering cycle of poverty, violence and hate is not broken, more black men will be doomed to lives of crime and years behind bars."






The numbers point to a need for preventive programs


It is a haunting snapshot:

Those and other facts are contained in a new report by the Sentencing Project, which argues persuasively that it's time for a look at hard goals and means in the criminal justice system. Even if the cost of incarcerating or otherwise controlling young black males weren't an astronomical 2.5 billion, even if prison overcrowding weren't a national scandal, even if the prison buildup in Michigan and elsewhere weren't diverting attention from other problems that would be true. The need for a reassessment is made more compelling by the nationwide phenomenon that more and longer sentences have come at a time of declining crime rates.

The importance that the report by the Washington-based, nonprofit organization places on the racial and ethnic disparities that exist is appropriate. In assessing the impact of the present system on the black community, though, it seems to ignore that the vast majority of the victims of these youthful black offenders were black as well. The current, "get tough" stance of the system is popular among blacks, who long saw crime in their communities ignored.

The report, however, reasonably suggests a look at alternatives to incarceration, as well as more treatment programs and greater use of victim restitution programs.

For some time - including 1986 when our year-long emphasis was a "generation worth saving" - we've written about the need for a long term strategy for intervening early to help salvage the lives of young people.

Ten or 20 years from now, we'll be decrying similar - or worse - findings if prevention, rather than reaction, doesn't emerge as our top priority.



It would be easy to jump to conclusions about a new study that indicates one in four black men between the ages of 20 and 29 is either in prison or jail on probation or parole. See, some will say, I told you blacks were more likely to be criminals.

That's not what the study says. What it does say is that young black men make up a much higher percentage of the prison population than they should.

Lack of education, lack of job opportunities, a welfare system that has weakened families without curing poverty and a drug culture that has taken root in poor neighborhoods all have more to do with why people become criminals than skin color.

The statistics in The Sentencing Project report raise a number of questions. For example, in 1989 there were 247,930 whites in state prisons, jails and federal prisons, compared to 212,252 blacks.

With blacks comprising only about 12 percent of the entire U.S. population, those numbers should not be so close to equal. But they are. Why then, given a nearly equal number of blacks and whites in prison, are there more than twice as many whites on probation or parole (806,578) than blacks (397,438)?

Crime rates nationally rose only 2 percent between 1979 and 1988, yet the number of prison inmates doubled during that time. In other words, there hasn't been more crime, but there has been a tougher attitude toward criminals. More of them are being sent to jail and more of those being sent are black.

As a result, 23 percent of all young black men (609,690) are to some degree under the control of the criminal justice system, compared to 6 percent of young white men (1,054,508). More young black men are getting their higher education in the criminal justice system than in college (436,000).

The Sentencing Project said the cost of incarcerating or monitoring convicted young black men has reached $2.5 billion a year. Then it pointed out that although the prison population has tripled since 1973, victimization rates have only dropped 5 percent.

The Project suggests more alternative sentencing - victims restitution, community service, etc. - as a cost-effective way to keep young blacks out of prison. We agree. But those actions only address the problem after it has become a problem, which is the shortcoming of the U.S. criminal justice system.

This nation needs a more effective system that interacts with public education and social services to reach young people, black and white, before they become criminals.

Locking them up is a belated and costly answer.


The San Diego Union, San Diego, Calif., D. 252,686, March 1, 1990, BURRELLE'S

It is a national tragedy that one of every four black American men in their 20's has been convicted of a crime. This disturbing statistic has complex roots in a drug-ridden society where incentives to work for a better life have been steadily undermined.

According to a study released by the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit group, 25 percent of black men in their 20s are in jail, in prison or on probation or parole. This number refers only to those actually convicted of does not include suspects who are arrested and released. By contrast only about 6 percent of white men in their 20s are being held or supervised by criminal courts.

Marc Mauer, author of the re port, rightly points out that America now faces the frightening prospect of "writing off an entire generation of black men, from leading productive lives.''

The implications of the report are ominous. From almost every standpoint - education, health, income, mortality and family unity - black men are one of the nation's most troubled groups. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan , who is known for alarmist statements, puts it aptly: " Not since slavery has so much calamity and ongoing catastrophe been visited on black males."

The causes of the crisis are many and varied. Drug abuse obviously is a prime factor. Poverty and lack of employment add to the problem. Well-intentioned welfare programs have eroded traditional values and helped create a permanent underclass. Despite the best efforts of legislators, discrimination still exists. Most of these causes are exacerbated by inadequate education, poor self-esteem and resultant feelings of despair.

Herb Cawthorne, chairman of San Diego's Black Federation, agrees that better education and more job opportunities would reduce the crime rate among young black men. But he also perceives the need to address what he calls " this serious, systemic problem" in a practical way by urging blacks to stand up and help themselves.

"They must not think their situation is hopeless," he says. "When that happens, anger and resentment build up toward society and irresponsible behavior results."

The Sentencing Project report makes no attempt to explain why so many black men run afoul of the law but contends that it is counterproductive merely to lock them up. Mr. Mauer recommends alternatives such as forcing criminals to repay their victims or work on community projects.

The report's main contribution is to spur national debate on a subject that has become too critical to neglect. We as a nation must recognize that far too many young black men are in deep trouble. A battle must be waged to break the festering cycle of violence and hate that dooms so many to lives of crime and years behind bars.


Rockford Register Star, Rockford, Il, Saturday March 3, 1990

There are truly shocking implications in a new study report showing that nearly one in every four American black males in their 20s is behind bars or on probation or parole. This terrible statistic suggests, as one of the authors of the study puts it, that the nation now risks " the possibility of writing off an entire generation of black men from leading productive lives."

The causes of this frightening situation are of both recent and long-standing issue. Obviously, the familiar factor of grinding poverty in the black underclass is involved. Widespread disintegration of black families, for a number of reasons, is another cause. The growth of the crack-cocaine culture in urban ghettos is yet another.

On top of all that, there has been in recent years the spread of get-tough policies in dealing with street crime - more prisons, longer sentences, more mandatory sentences. If the product of this popular strategy is the loss of a whole generation of black men, it would seem to merit rethinking.

That's also the attitude of The Sentencing Project, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the study report. It calls for reforms in the criminal justice system calculated to make first-time lawbreakers less likely to become repeat offenders.

The point is well made. For 20 years, the popular approach to crime has been to hire more police, build more prisons, appoint tougher judges, hand down sterner sentences - and for all of that we find that crime rates have only increased. Alternatives along the lines suggested by the Sentencing Project merit exploration.

These would include alternative punishments (restitution to victims, community service) and programs of drug treatment, employment training and education for first-time offenders. Prison should be last resort after alternatives have failed, as the study report recommends.

In recent decades, this nation has spent hundreds of billions, even trillions, of dollars to defend itself against the menace of international communism. With that threat now on the wane, perhaps it is time that we devote more of our resources to saving the country from the awful consequences that are sure to accrue from the moral and economic incapacitation of an entire generation of black men by lives of crime.



One black man behind bars, on probation or on parole is an individual; two-thirds of a million is a statistic. That's how we've looked at the growing plight of young black males, as statistics rather than individuals.

A study released a few days ago by the Sentencing Project, a non-profit organization that promotes alternative punishments and sentencing reform, helps put the problems of black males in stunning perspective.

Analyzing figures obtained from the U.S. Justice Department, researchers concluded that one in four black males between the ages of 20 and 29 is in trouble with the law. He is either in jail, on probation or on parole.

If these figures are accurate - the Justice Department didn't dispute them - they reveal the outline of a social disaster whose repercussions will be with us for a long time. Consider:

In other words, more young black men face officers of the law than face professors of English. It's hard not to agree with Marc Mauer, author of The Sentencing Project study, when he says, "We now risk the possibility of writing off an entire generation of black men from leading productive lives."

Indeed, that already may be happening. Young black men are 10 times more likely to be murdered than their white counterparts. Murder is the primary cause of death among black males aged 15 to 44 - a death rate so high it has become the major factor in the falling life expectancy of American blacks as a whole.

Mr. Mauer argues against building more prison cells, the approach generally favored in North Carolina, and putting more stress on counseling, dispute resolution and other alternatives to prison. He would also give judges broad sentencing guidelines that would allow them to tailor a criminal's punishment to his situation.

Mr. Mauer's recommendations address only the surface tension of a much deeper pool of problems. The driving forces behind the failure of so many young black men to thrive in today's society can be traced to an environment of crime, drugs and family disintegration.

There is no simple answer to what is happening to them, but one place to start looking for it is in jobs. The federal government's Job Corps program now takes about 65,000 youngsters a year, a figure that could be doubled by Congress at the cost of two B-2 bombers. Congress should also consider some form of voluntary national service, perhaps along the lines of the Depression-era Civilian Corps, to teach job skills and foster a sense of self- achievement.

Business can help through innovative hiring practices and by supporting school reform. Professionals and other well-educated people can give a few hours a month to tutoring programs. Only when the young black male emerges as a whole person rather than a statistic in such endeavors will we see not only the measure of his problems, but also the opportunities to help him.



More depressing news is difficult to imagine: One in every four black men in their 20s is in jail, in prison, on probation or parole. At a time when they should be graduating from colleges and universities, settling into good jobs, getting married and raising families, many of them sit in fetid prison cells, doing nothing constructive for themselves or for society.

Martin Luther King chanted the refrain "Free at last," but loosing the shackles of bondage caused by discriminatory practices unfortunately did not improve by much the status of what has been called the vast "underclass" of blacks with no jobs, little education, and no future.

"We now risk the possibility of writing off an entire generation of black men from leading productive lives," said Marc Mauer, author of a report by The Sentencing Project, a Washington based group lobbying for alternatives to incarceration. "This has ominous implications for the black community. We really don't know what it will mean for the future because we have never had a situation like this before."

A quarter of a century, more or less, has passed since the civil rights marches of the 1960s, the burning of Watts and the rage of probably a dozen cities in this country. How far have we come? Not far at all.

Although blacks make up only about 12 percent of the nation's population, there are more black inmates in state prisons than whites. Among the young males, 23 percent of the blacks end up in prison or on probation or parole; 6 percent of the whites in the same age category are in that predicament.

At the beginning of the conservative era with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, there was much talk of establishing "enterprise zones" in the ghettos of large cities. This was to be the Republican answer to "throwing money at problems."

If there are any models of "enterprise zones" that have brought economic vitality to the most depressed areas of large cities, they must be the best-kept secrets of the Reagan-Bush and Bush-Quayle administrations. With unemployment at high levels, black youths turn to drug trade for their livelihood.

A completely separate report prepared for the University of California reveals that the number of blacks entering the UC system is low - only 4.5 percent of black high school graduates in California are eligible compared to 14.1 percent of the white graduates.

One more door is closed that, if opened, would change the picture for the future of young blacks.

It should come as no surprise that the cost of incarcerating the large numbers of blacks in prison, and supervising them while they are on probation or parole, is staggering. It's put at $2.5 billion.

What a colossal waste when so much could be done with that money to teach young blacks the skills necessary for good-paying jobs or improve their educational levels so they could go on to college and be rewarded with positions that offer prestige and compensation equal to what their white counterparts receive.

We are preparing for a blighted future when so many young blacks view entry into the drug trade as their only way out of poverty and squalor. It will require a national administration with a more realistic grasp of what is needed to reverse this ominous trend than the platitudes and empty symbolism offered by the Bushes and the Qualyes. (dch)


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