One-third of African-American men in their 20s who reside in California are behind bars, on parole or on probation, according to a study released Thursday in San Francisco.
The figure, representing 67,556 men, exceeds by nearly five times the number of African-American men who attend four-year colleges in the state and is 10 percentage points higher than the number of young black men nationwide who are in prison or otherwise under the control of the criminal justice system.
By contrast, 5.4% of white male Californians in their 20s are in the same situation. The figure for similar California Latino males is 9.4%
Vincent Schiraldi of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) and co-author of the study said the higher figure for California's black men is a reflection of the state's greater propensity for get-tough-on-crime policies. Such policies have had a devastating effect on African-Americans, particularly black men, he said.
A February study by the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., organization intent on improving alternative sentencing programs, found nearly one in four blacks between the ages of 20 and 29 are under the control of the criminal justice system nationwide.
Lulann McGriff, the San Francisco-based chair of education for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People in California, said the report is alarming and has profound implications.
"We are writing off an entire generation of black men," she said. "Any time you have 33% under the thumb of the criminal justice system something is inherently wrong with the system."
Mark Ridley Thomas, director of the Los Angeles office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the results show that California "is not the haven that many would like to think it is in respect to solving social ills."
Schiraldi said the study was intentionally released five days before next week's election to influence voter attitudes against four prison bond measures that he said would provide $2.2 billion for the construction and operations of prisons and jails.
"There is a feeding frenzy in California over building prisons," said Schiraldi, who operates NCIA's San Francisco office. "The corrections budget has (increased) in the last 10 years from $300 million in 1980 to over $3 billion today."
The NCIA is a nationwide nonprofit organization that has proposed alternative sentencing plans for 8,000 convicted criminals since it was founded in 1979 by a former director of Massachusetts' correction system. NCIA officials testify before government committees and provide courts and defense lawyers with possible sentencing alternatives.
The study is a compilation of data culled from reports and surveys by several federal and state agencies, including the state Department of Corrections and the California Youth Authority, Schiraldi said.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, who sponsored Proposition 133, one of the measures opposed by Schiraldi, also seemed shocked by the findings.
Among other things, the measure would prohibit the early release of criminals convicted twice of murder, manslaughter, rape or a drug offense.
"What you see is a system rushing to incarcerate people regardless of the fact that it is not making people any safer," he said. "The system affects black men more and so we allow it to continue."