Says New Jersey’s prison system is "61 percent African-American even though our state is just 13 percent black."

Cory Booker on Friday, May 4th, 2012 in a speech at an American Federation for Children event


Cory Booker said black people represent more than 60 percent of New Jersey’s prison population

Newark Mayor Cory Booker delivers a speech at a May 4 event. Go to 1:00:00 to hear his comments on New Jersey's prison population.

If the United States wants to secure a future as a leading democracy, it must invest in its children, according to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

But right now the country is failing to live up to its potential, Booker said in a speech at a May 4 forum held by the American Federation for Children, a group that advocates for school choice. At the end of his speech, Booker, talking about "the carnage that happens when we fail to live up to the promise of this nation," told a story about the death of a boy he knew when he first took office in 2006.

While recounting that story, Booker stopped himself and said: "I know the data. I see what's happening to young minority men in this country. I see how much, when looking from a financial perspective how much we as taxpayers pay, billions of dollars in New Jersey for a prison system or correctional system that doesn't correct. Recycling the same people over and over and over again. A prison system that is 61 percent African-American even though our state is just 13 percent black."

PolitiFact New Jersey checked Booker’s statistics on the state’s prison population and found that he knows the data well.

New Jersey housed 23,810 people in all of its correctional facilities, including halfway houses and county jails, as of Jan. 3, according to data from the state department of corrections.

Of those nearly 24,000 offenders, 61 percent, or 14,469 people, are black. By comparison, 22 percent, or 5,300 inmates, are white and 16 percent, or 3,785 inmates, are Hispanic.

New Jersey’s prison population, excluding offenders held in a facility for women and another facility for adult male sex offenders, is smaller, with 15,407 inmates. Of that population, 62 percent are black.

How does the racial makeup of the state’s prison population compare with the state’s overall population?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.7 percent of New Jersey’s population is black.

So Booker’s numbers are right. But we wondered how New Jersey compares with the rest of the nation.

Based on estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 38 percent of prisoners under state and federal jurisdiction at the end of 2010 were black. According to the same data, about 32 percent of prisoners were white and more than 22 percent were Hispanic. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates are based on prisoners with a sentence of more than one year.

Overall, 12.6 percent of the U.S. population is black, according to 2010 census data.

John M. Paitakes, professor of criminal justice at Seton Hall University, said there are many factors behind these statistics, citing prior records and legal representation. He also noted that profiling and prejudice could be factors, but said, "I don’t think it’s any more in New Jersey than in other areas."

"I think before you draw any conclusions you have to look at all those factors to get a realistic picture of what it is," he said.

Our ruling

Booker said New Jersey’s prison system is "61 percent African-American even though our state is just 13 percent black."

Data from the state corrections department and U.S. Census Bureau back his statistics.

We rate the claim True.

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