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Bulging prison system called massive intervention in American family life
Date:8/2/2008

BOSTON The mammoth increase in the United States' prison population since the 1970s is having profound demographic consequences that disproportionately affect black males.

"This jump in incarceration rates represents a massive intervention in American families at a time when the federal government was making claims that it was less involved in their lives," according to a University of Washington researcher who will present findings Sunday (Aug. 3) at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Drawing data from a variety of sources that looked at prison and general populations, Becky Pettit, a UW associate professor of sociology, and Bryan Sykes, a UW post-doctoral researcher, found that the boom in prison population is hiding lowered rates of fertility and increased rates of involuntary migration to rural areas and morbidity that is marked by a greater exposure to and risk of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV or AIDS.

These effects are most heavily felt by low-skill black males, and she said the disproportionately high incarceration rates among African-Americans suggest the prison system is a key suspect in these demographic results.

Pettit said well-documented facts one in 100 Americans is behind bars in 2008, about 2.4 million people currently are incarcerated and nearly 60 percent of young black males who dropped out of high school have served time in jail don't seem to register with Americans.

"These kinds of rates were not historically true 30 years ago. Today, we are giving people custodial sentences that we wouldn't have in the past for victimless crimes. Our justice system has become more punitive," she said, adding that most demographic data collection is decades behind the times and masks this racial disproportionality. That's because most surveys, which are federally funded, were begun in the 1960s and 70s and excluded the prison population, which was significantly smaller at that ti
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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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