Becky Pettit - April 10, 2013

Wednesday, April 10 , 2013 | ENG 189 | 3-5 pm

Becky Pettit, Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology
University of Washington

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Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress

For African American men without a high school diploma, being in prison or jail is more common than being employed—a sobering reality that calls into question post-Civil Rights era social gains. Nearly 70 percent of young black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lives, and poor black men with low levels of education make up a disproportionate share of incarcerated Americans. In Invisible Men, sociologist Becky Pettit demonstrates another vexing fact of mass incarceration: most national surveys do not account for prison inmates, a fact that results in a misrepresentation of U.S. political, economic, and social conditions in general and black progress in particular. Invisible Men provides an eye-opening examination of how mass incarceration has concealed decades of racial inequality.

Pettit marshals a wealth of evidence correlating the explosion in prison growth with the disappearance of millions of black men into the American penal system. She shows that, because prison inmates are not included in most survey data, statistics that seemed to indicate a narrowing black-white racial gap—on educational attainment, work force participation, and earnings—instead fail to capture persistent racial, economic, and social disadvantage among African Americans. Invisible Men provides a vital reality check for social researchers, lawmakers, and anyone who cares about racial equality. The book shows that more than a half century after the first civil rights legislation, the dismal fact of mass incarceration inflicts widespread and enduring damage by undermining the fair allocation of public resources and political representation.

Discussants

About the Author

Becky Pettit holds a Ph.D in Sociology from Princeton University. She is a professor of Sociology at the University of Washington. Her past and present projects investigate the role of institutional factors in explaining differential labor market opportunities and aggregate patterns of inequality. Becky Pettit is the author of two books: Gendered Tradeoffs (coauthored with Jennifer Hook, 2009) and Invisible Men (2012), as well as of several articles. She has been a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, Northwestern University and the American Bar Foundation.