False “Facts” at the Sentencing Project

In 2015, Glenn Kessler fact-checked a claim that a Black male “born today” had a one in three chance of being incarcerated during his lifetime. Kessler traced that claim to a 2013 Sentencing Project report that cited imprisonment risks from a 2003 analysis by Bonczar. That 2003 analysis stated that its lifetime risk estimates assumed that “age-specific rates of first incarceration remain at 2001 levels”. Kessler reported that the imprisonment rate for black males fell 20% from 2001 through 2013, suggesting that the “1 in 3” lifetime risk might be too high in 2015.

Unfortunately, the Sentencing Project still trumpets lifetime imprisonment risks from the 2003 Bonczar analysis, with the inaccurate claim that those risks apply to U.S. residents “born in 2001”. The Sentencing Project provides the following graphic to make it easier for others to spread this misinformation. 

Bonczar estimated the lifetime imprisonment risks that would apply if age-specific first imprisonment rates remained at 2001 levels. We now have Prisoner data showing massive 2001-2020 imprisonment rate declines for men ages 18-35, the ages that Bonczar found to be especially associated with first imprisonments.

The Sentencing Project needs to update its “Criminal Justice Facts” to acknowledge the following verifiable facts about imprisonment rate trends from 2001-2020:

  • From 2001-2020, the imprisonment rate for males ages 18-19 fell 81%.
  • From 2001-2020, the imprisonment rate for males ages 20-24 fell 66%, led by a 71% decline for Black males ages 20-24
  • From 2001-2020, the imprisonment rate for males ages 25-29 fell 48%, led by a 65% decline for Black males ages 25-29.
  • From 2001-2020, the imprisonment rate for males ages 30-34 fell 37%, led by a 56% decline for Black males ages 30-34.
  • From 2001-2020, imprisonment rates for Black and Hispanic males ages 18-34 recorded steeper declines than White male imprisonment rates.

U.S. residents born in 2001 are now in their early-20s. They have already played their part in astonishing declines in juvenile and young adult arrest and incarceration rates. They are now playing their part in ongoing massive declines in adult offending and incarceration, led by even steeper declines for Black males.

The Sentencing Project needs to stop telling Black men in their early-20s that they have a one in three chance of going to prison. That isn’t even close to being a statement of fact.

Posted in