Recent publication from Robey, Massoglia & Light finds generational shift in incarceration risk

A Generational Shift: Race and the Declining Lifetime Risk of Imprisonment published in Demography explores the present landscape of incarceration in the United States, with findings featured in the Washington Post.

“Surprising to many, in this paper we demonstrate that the black male incarceration declined by 45% between 2001 and 2019. As a result, the lifetime risk of incarceration has fundamentally changed for more recent generations of young black men. We find that about 1 in 3 (33.7%) black men born in 1981 were incarcerated by age 38. But for black men born in 2001, less than 1 in 5 (18.3%) will be incarcerated by the same age if incarceration rates don’t decline any further. In other words, the risk of going to prison for black men was nearly cut in half in just 20 years. Consequently, the institutional landscape for young black men has changed substantially in a short time. This point is made clear by comparing prison to educational outcomes. In 2009, black men turning 25 were more likely to have been to prison (17.4%) than graduated college with a bachelor’s degree (12.8%). By 2019, this had flipped. Black men aged 25 were more likely to have a bachelor’s degree (17.7%) than to have been to prison (12.0%),” Robey shared.

When asked about the impact and application of these findings, Robey shared “overall, our article provides a better understanding of the social role of prisons in the contemporary United States. Substantial progress has been made in reducing the risk of imprisonment in the last twenty years, particularly for black men. Yet, there is still more progress to be made. The incarceration rate in the United States remains among the highest in the world and stark racial disparities endure. We hope our article will inform academics, policymakers, and members of the public interested in understanding imprisonment in the US and how we might bring about further progress.”