“We have more African Americans under criminal supervision today than all the slaves in 1850.”
–Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
There are several problems with this claim. First, as Booker framed it, it’s simply wrong. The 1850 census counted 3.6 million slaves. That’s compared to African Americans constituting 2.3 million, or 34 percent, of the total 6.8 million correctional population in 2014.
A Booker spokeswoman as evidence sent us a link to a 2014 PolitiFact fact check about a different claim – that more black men are now in prison than were slaves in 1850. “There were about 1.68 million African American men under state and federal criminal justice supervision in 2013, 807,076 more than the number of African American men who were enslaved in 1850,” the fact check said, rating it “true.”
But that’s not what Booker said.
Moreover, even if the black men comparison is correct in terms of raw numbers, it’s still misleading because the U.S. population has soared since 1850, as our colleagues at Wonkblog noted in 2015. The census that year found that roughly nine in 10 of the nation’s 3.6 million blacks were enslaved. By contrast, one in 11 blacks is under correctional supervision today, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.