Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

What If 59 Stanford Law Students Were in Prison?

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That’s how many SLS students would be in prison or jail if the school’s student body had the same incarceration rate as black men ages 20-34 — in other words, a little over 1/3 of this year’s 1L class. Of course, given that law students tend to be an affluent and risk-averse bunch (or as someone less cynical might say, a bunch that reveres the law), I’m not familiar with any SLS students currently incarcerated. (As for the alumni, I know of at least one Stanford JD who was lucky enough to get sentenced to home detention for her crimes, rather than a stint in the big house.) But at least as a thought experiment, I thought this figure might hit home for some of my law school classmates.

We hear a lot about how the United States now has a rate of incarceration unprecedented in American history, and unmatched by virtually any other country. (By way of comparison, as of 2008 the much larger China had 1.6 million prisoners; the United States, 2.3 million.) But it can be hard to wrap your head around what those figures really mean. So, I decided to conduct a little arithmetic problem, applying American incarceration rates to the student body at two institutions I know well: Stanford Law School, where I’m a student, and the University of Florida, where my younger sister is an undergraduate. Since SLS is very small, and UF is very large, between these two metrics, I figure most readers can gauge how the educational institutions they’ve attended would stack up in a comparison of this type. I got the base incarceration rates from the Pew Center on the States report One in 100: America Behind Bars 2008.

Total student population:

SLS — 534 (based on 2008 report to ABA)
UF — 51,000+ (according to UF website)

# of students who would be in jail or prison if…

Students were incarcerated at the rate of American adults generally, ages 18+ (1 in 100):

SLS — 5
UF — 510

Students were incarcerated at the rate of men ages 18+ (1 in 54):

SLS — 9
UF — 944

Students were incarcerated at the rate of white men ages 18+ (1 in 106):

SLS — 5
UF — 481

Students were incarcerated at the rate of black men ages 18+ (1 in 15):

SLS — 35
UF — 3400

Students were incarcerated at the rate of black men ages 20-34 (1 in 9):

SLS — 59
UF — 5666

Students were incarcerated at the rate of Hispanic men ages 18+ (1 in 36):

SLS — 14
UF — 1416

Students were incarcerated at the rate of women ages 35-39 (1 in 265):

SLS — 2
UF — 192

Students were incarcerated at the rate of white women ages 35-39 (1 in 355):

SLS — 1
UF — 143

Students were incarcerated at the rate of black women ages 35-39 (1 in 100):

SLS — 5
UF — 510

Students were incarcerated at the rate of Hispanic women ages 35-39 (1 in 297):

SLS — 1
UF — 171

How I did the math: I multiplied the incarceration rate for each population by the estimated student body for each school (534 for SLS, 51,000 for UF), then rounded down to get a whole number. In full disclosure, my last real math class was twelfth grade AP Calculus, so readers should feel free to send a note or comment correcting my arithmetic if I’ve made any errors.

Written by sara

January 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Reflections

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One Response

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  1. This is very interesting to me because I did something similar for the University of Iowa. I used the proportionate share of 144 county jail inmates, 100 Iowa prison inmates committed by the county court and 75 Federal prison inmates that were county residents. The UI fall enrollment was 30,400 and the county population was 125,700.

    The proportionate numbers were 35 jail inmates, 24 Iowa prison inmates and 18 Federal prison inmates. If there are students in jail they are held less than 24 hours (a very rough guess at the student ADP is between 1 and 2) and to my knowledge there are no UI students in any prison at the present time.

    It took a long time for me to find the person who could tell me how many county residents were in federal prisons. Once I found that person he came up with the number very quickly.

    John Neff

    January 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm


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