Sociologist studies lasting confines of imprisonment

For the last several years, Bruce Western has been studying the rising number of Americans who are serving time in prison. The professor of sociology has examined how higher incarceration rates have impacted families and how the effects reverberate in labor markets.

And then he and a colleague decided to explore the connection between imprisonment and race. What they found startled them: When they examined the statistics on black males in their mid-30s who were high school dropouts, they found that nearly 60 percent had been to prison.

"It was an astonishing number," Western said. "We found a dramatic phenomenon that had not been well documented. African-American community leaders have often spoken about the high incarceration rates among disadvantaged young black men. But until the numbers were calculated, the full magnitude of the problem wasn't appreciated, particularly outside of the black community."

Young black men were more than six times as likely as young white men to serve time in prison. And the prison incarceration rates for young black males had risen by 165 percent in 20 years.

The results of the study, conducted by Western and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington, were published in the American Sociological Review last April and garnered attention from the mainstream media.

Read the full story in the Weekly Bulletin.

Contact: Eric Quinones (609) 258-3601