"In 1972, we had a 179,000 human beings in jail in this country. Today, it's 2.3-million, and 70 percent of them are black, African-American."
Mike Gravel on Thursday, June 28th, 2007 in a debate at Howard University.
He's off, way off on who's in prison
In a debate at the historically black college, Gravel said, "one of the areas that touches me the most and enrages me the most is our war on drugs that this country has been putting forth for the last generation."
Then he put forth statistics. 2.3 million people in jail. 70 percent of them African-American. Yikes. He got the first one right, but that 70 percent figure? That's not just wrong, that's Pants-On-Fire wrong. The real figure, according to the June 2007 report of the Bureau of Justice Statistics that counts federal, state and local jails, is 40 percent.
We're giving Gravel our harshest ruling because he botched this fact so badly and because it's such an important one to get right. It's something of a popular myth that most of the people in jail or prison are black, so to hear a presidential candidate make the false claim with such authority should not be overlooked. It also is worth noting that the 2.3 million figure that Gravel got right comes from the very same Bureau of Justice report that shows how wrong he was about the incarceration of black people. He should have kept reading.