Criminal Justice System Facts & Figures

The U.S. has about 2.2 million adults incarcerated in federal, state prisons, and county jails – about .9% of adults of the U.S. population or 1 in every 110 people.

US Bureau of Justice Statistics


The US prison population has increased by 500% over the past 40 years.

Bread for the World


The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but 22% of its prison population.


The U.S. imprisons 737 out of every 100,000 citizens. In contrast, Japan imprisons 58 out of 100,000 and the Scandinavian countries imprison about 46 out of every 100,000 citizens.


The crime rates for 17 industrial nations is about 21% — the same as the U.S. So for 10 times the cost, the US. receives no additional benefit.


If incarceration rates continue to grow at the pace they have since the 1970’s, 33% black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can 16% Latino males, and 6% white males.

The Sentencing Project


20% of people incarcerated have been convicted of a drug offense. A drug arrest creates a criminal record which reduces employment prospects and increases the likelihood of a longer sentence for any future offense.

Prison Policy Initiative


Some states have laws that if someone dies during the commission of a felony, everyone involved is as guilty of murder as the person who pulled the trigger.  For example a person who drives a getaway car during a bank robbery where someone was accidentally killed can be convicted of “murder.”


Approximately 11 million people go to jail throughout the year who have not been convicted. Some have been arrested and will make bail in a few hours or days, but others are too poor and remain behind bars until their trial.


Since1976 over 1,400 people have been executed in the US. At the same time 156 people have been exonerated from death row, for an error rate of about 10%. If the same percentage is true for the other 2 million prisoners in the U.S., that would mean there are about 200,000 conviction errors.


Texas has the largest prison population in the country – about 147,000 people.

Chicago Tribune


Between 1990 and 1995, the homicide rate fell by 13% but the murder reports on TV network news rose by 336%. At the same time, 71% of people surveyed thought there was more crime in 1996 than in 1995 even though crimes tracked by the FBI declined 5% during that year.


Between 1984 and 2004, the length of the average term of incarceration doubled.

Church of the Second Chance


Children as young as 7 can be prosecuted and tried in adult court in 22 states and the District of Columbia

Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas


There are approximately 5,200 youth incarcerated in the adult prison system.


Of the other 34,000 incarcerated youth, 7,200 (or 21%), are locked up for “offenses” that aren’t crimes. These include technical violations of their probation or “status offenses” such as running away, truancy, and incorrigibility. There are also approximately 20,000 young people held in residential facilities awaiting “incarceration.”

Prison Policy Initiative


There are over 2,500 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.

Human Rights Watch


Kids who have a parent incarcerated are 6 times more likely to wind up behind bars.

Church of the Second Chance


72% of adolescent murderers and 70% of all long term inmates grew up without a father in the home.

Church of the Second Chance


Kids raised by their mother alone are 6 times more likely to be poor.

Church of the Second Chance


Children whose parents are incarcerated experience higher rates of trauma related stress, depression, aggression and other anti-social behaviors including truancy, drug use, sexual promiscuity and dropping out of school.

Bread for the World


Approximately 20% of felons in prison are mentally ill, 37% were under the influence of alcohol at the time of their crime, while 33% were on drugs. 19% are completely illiterate and 40% functionally illiterate.

Church of the Second Chance


The Los Angeles county jail is the largest psychiatric provider in the country.

Church of the Second Chance


The average prisoner’s IQ is 8-10 points lower than the general population.

Church of the Second Chance


It costs about 3 times as much to house a mentally ill person in prison than in a secure psychiatric hospital.

Church of the Second Chance


Well over 50% of the prisoners in some ‘super max’ prisons have mental illnesses that can be diagnosed.

Church of the Second Chance


A study of more than 25,000 incarcerated men and women found it cost the state twice as much to treat a person with a serious mental illness while incarcerated as treatment alone.

Bread for the World


Since 1980 the rate of women imprisoned has been increasing 50% more than the rate for men. 66% of incarcerated women are serving sentences for nonviolent crimes, most of these are for drug offenses, whose lengthy sentences were mandated by the punitive policies in the name of a “War on Drugs.”

Bread for the World


Since 1991, the number of children with a mother who has been to prison for a felony conviction has more than doubled.

Bread for the World


80% of women in prison have a history of substance use disorder. More than 70% of mothers in prison report having sought mental health treatment or counseling before incarceration – a much higher percentage than in the general population.

Bread for the World


White people use drugs 5 times as many as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)


More black men are in prison today than were enslaved in 1850.

Michelle Alexander


681 Caucasian American men out of every 100,000 are behind bars compared to 4,834 African American men out of every 100,000. Of 25-29 year olds, these numbers are respectively: 1,607 and 12,809. By contrast, South Africa in the last year of apartheid (1990) locked up 851 men out 100,000.

Church of the Second Chance


An African American male has a 32% chance of going to prison at some point in his life. 16% of all adult black men are either current or former convicts, compared to 2% of white men.


The average prison sentence for a Caucasian American is 4 years, the average prison term for an African American is 6 years.


African Americans represent 12% of the population, 13% of the drug users, 35% of the drug arrests, 53% of the drug convictions and 58% of those incarcerated for drug offenses.


In 1930, 77% of prison admissions were Caucasians, 22% were African Americans and 1% other. In 1984, 60% were white, but by 2003 the racial makeup of US jails and penitentiaries had practically reversed: 68% of prisoners were from minority groups.


1 in 33 kids have a father or mother in prison. For African American kids, its 1 in 8.

Church of the Second Chance


Corrections expenditures are more than 350% higher than they were in 1980.

Bread for the World


In 1980 the US spend $77 per person on corrections. In 2014, it was $260 per year on corrections for a total of annual $80 billion.

The Brookings Institute


It costs over $30,000 per year to house a convict in prison.

Vera Institute of Justice


Life expectancy in the U.S is 79 years, so the cost to house a prisoner who is sentenced to life in prison without parole at age 19, will be: $1,800,000 ($30,000 x 60 years) — not accounting for inflation or special geriatric care.


The average sentence is almost 3 years, so the average cost to house a prisoner is $90,000.


As a prisoner ages, the likelihood of committing another crime decreases but at the same time the cost to house him or her increases. It can cost up to 3 times as much to imprison older convicts as younger ones. In recognition of this fact some countries have eliminated “life sentences” and found other less expensive alternatives.


The cost to hold 1 person for 1 night in jail is approximately $234.

Lane County Oregon


There has been a growing trend to privatize prisons. Like the “military industrial complex” this brings commercial interests and motivations into public policy decision making such as “lockup quotas.”

Bread for the World


Private prisons make up over 10% of the corrections market and are a $2 billion year industry. The largest corporations are the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) formed in 1983 and the GEO Group.

Church of the Second Chance


In 2010 CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America), the largest private prison company in the country, told its shareholders, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.”

Bread for the World


When occupancy quotas are not met, taxpayers are obliged to pick up the cost to reimburse contractors for lost revenue.  For example in Colorado, crime rates were down by 33% in a decade but occupancy requirements at 3 state prisons meant taxpayers owed contractors an additional $2 million.

Bread for the World


Aramark, provides 1 million meals a day in 1,500 facilities and is the world’s 3rd largest food services company.

Church of the Second Chance


Correctional Medical services (CMS) and Prison Health services (PHS) manage prison infirmaries for $2 billion a year.

Church of the Second Chance


30 states rent out their inmates to private firms that need cheap, compliant and legally powerless workers.  In 2002, US prisoners produced $1.5 billion worth of goods with companies such as: Delco, Dell, TWA, Wal-Mart, Upjohn, Toys “R” Us, Chevron, IBM, Microsoft, Boeing and Nintendo. The Federal Prison Industries (FPI) and Woolrich Inc produced equipment for the military.

Church of the Second Chance


In 1979 Congress repealed the Ashurst Summers Act which was designed to make prison sweatshops unattractive by prohibiting the interstate transportation of inmate-manufactured goods unless the inmates are paid the prevailing wage or the minimum wage whichever is higher.


A study on recidivism (released inmates returning to prison) performed in Oklahoma between 1997 and 2008 showed that prisoners released from private prisons had almost a 4% higher rate.

Smart Assets


In 2010, the GEO group was forced to reach a $2.9 million settlement to provide up to $400 to inmates at six facilities for illegal and unnecessary strip searches.

Smart Assets


60% of former inmates remain unemployed one year after discharge. Those who do find work earn 50% as much as employees without criminal records.

Church of the Second Chance


Prisoners who have children find they owe an average of $20,000 in child support upon discharge.


87% of Americans want prisons to provide rehabilitation programs while 11% support a punishment only system.

Church of the Second Chance


The recidivism (return) rate of drug involved state prisoners drops from 75% to 27% if they receive proper, intensive therapeutic services during their incarceration.

National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors


43% of inmates who participate in education programs have a lower risk of recidivism than those who don’t.

The Rand Corporation


Between 1991 and 1997, educational participation levels fell 12% among state inmates and 6% among federal prisoners due to program budget cuts. Full college programs behind bars fell from 350 in 1982 to 12 in 2001. Nationwide less than 5% of prisoners are enrolled in any kind of college class.

Church of the Second Chance


51% of state inmates and 54% of federal prisoners participate in some sort of educational program during their entire period of incarceration.

Church of the Second Chance


Re-incarceration rates for participants in prison education programs were 46% lower than for non-participants.

Forbes


Every inmate who leaves the system saves that state an average of $25,000 per year. Nationwide, more than 650,000 people are released from state prisons each year. By cutting the re-incarceration rate in half, $2 billion per year could be saved. Former inmates with jobs also have less need for public assistance and contribute to society, in the form of taxes and purchasing power.

Forbes


Rehabilitation programs that provide housing & training can reduce recidivism rate by more than 50%, potentially saving public funding $2 billion annually.


State prisons devote 6% of their budgets to rehabilitation.

Church of the Second Chance


The end of a prison sentence does not complete the punishment phase for people convicted of a felony. Laws prohibit returning citizens from a successful reentry to their communities and contribute to high recidivism rates. For example, people who have been arrested or convicted are discriminated against for employment.

Bread for the World


Laws also ban people with felony drug convictions from receiving food stamps. People with felony convictions are permanently barred from receiving food stamps in 12 states. (Georgia’s threshold for a felony drug possession is 1 ounce of marijuana.) It is harder to get federal student aid and 12 states impose a lifetime ban on the right to vote.

Bread for the World


Former drug offenders are often barred from public housing and 15-27% of released inmates end up in homeless shelters.


It costs much more to keep a person in prison than to provide treatment. In NY, a community based program for women with substance use disorders designed to keep families together cost an average of $34,000 a year to house a mother and two children, compared to $129,000 for incarceration and foster care.

Bread for the World


In the state of Illinois: about $1.3 billion is spent on its prison system. There are approximately 44,000 people in prison — 30,000 more than in 1983, when there were only 14,000. African Americans there make up about 15% of the population of the state but make up about 57% of its prison population. 90% of everyone in prison will eventually be released back into society. 30,000 people leave prison every year but the recidivism rate is about 50%, meaning that half of these people will be back in prison within 3 years.

University of Chicago Law School