Wednesday, April 09, 2003


"The number of people in U.S. prisons and jails topped 2 million for the first time, according to a U.S. Justice Department report released Sunday."

This from the Detroit Free Press.

This in itself is startling. But, the following factoid is pretty staggering.

""An estimated 12 percent of African American men ages 20 to 34 are in jail or prison, the report said."

"The proportion of young black men who are incarcerated has been rising in recent years, and this is the highest rate ever measured, Beck said. By comparison, 1.6 percent of white men in the same age group are incarcerated."

This at a time when the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a potentially landmark case involving affirmative action. Yep, that old chestnut may be on the way out. The court has, of course, swung conservative and might be expected to side with the plaintiffs, a number of student applicants to the University of Michigan. They argue that the universities admissions programme which gives additional weight to those of colour is unfair. Affirmative action programmes are a vestige of the 70s and 80s when it was realised that black and other minorities in the US had a tough time competing against white middle class males for jobs and unviersity places. Quite a lot of programmes have fallen by the wayside. California has banned affirmative action. I think this was after a statewide referendum. But, affirmative action is still alive at many colleges.

Oral arguments were put last week - see here. It will be several months before a judgment is handed down. As you would expect, the case has becaome a cause celebre for opponents and supporters of affirmative action alike.

A difficult one this: my instinct is to say that affirmative action is bad because it encourages quotas, strengthens divide between ethnic or racial groups and is unfair on those excluded. However, whilst in simplistic terms programmes like this are poor policy, there is surely still a need in the US and other western countries with a diverse population to encourage policies that promote, even reward, diversity. Given the worrying trend picked up in the prison numbers in the US (I'm sure echoed in the UK), non-white, non-males still need a leg up to compete in society.

:: Posted by pete @ 21:42