In his fine study Punishment and Inequality in America (2006), the Princeton University sociologist Bruce Western powerfully describes the scope, nature, and consequences of contemporary imprisonment. He finds that the extent of racial disparity in imprisonment rates is greater than in any other major arena of American social life: at eight to one, the black–white ratio of incarceration rates dwarfs the two-to-one ratio of unemployment rates, the three-to-one ration of non-marital childbearing, the two-to-one ratio of infant-mortality rates and one-to-five ratio of net worth. While three out of 200 young whites were incarcerated in 2000, the rate for young blacks was one in nine. A black male resident of the state of California is more likely to go to a state prison than a state college.
As Loury convincingly argues, this has all been part of an effort to keep us safe from them. The result is communities broken by the loss of young men and one of the largest prison populations in the world. The rest of his article is evocative and persuasive, and I recommend reading it in full.