As of 2019, the American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories
The US prison population has increased by 500% over the past 40 years.
The U.S. has almost 5% of the world’s population but 22% of its prison population.
The U.S. imprisons 655 out of every 100,000 citizens. In contrast, Russia imprisons 415, England & Wales 142 , France 102 and Germany 77. Syria imprisons about 60 out of every 100,000 of its citizens and Pakistan imprisons 44 out of 100,000.
Calvin College Initiative and the Prison Policy Initiative
The U.S. crime rate of 46.73 is about the same or higher than Ireland, Great Britain, Italy, Sweden, France, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Norway, Spain and the Netherlands — despite spending at least 10 times more than these countries for incarceration.
At 6 years of age, America and Mexico have the lowest age of criminal responsibility.
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.
76% or the people who go to jail (approximately 10 million) throughout each year have not been convicted of a crime. Some have been arrested and will make bail in a few hours or days, but others are too poor to make bail and remain behind bars until their trial.
Since 1976 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.
States with the highest incarceration rates are:
Oklahoma has 1,079 per 100,000 people incarcerated.
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
On any given day, 10,000 youth are detained or incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. Studies show that youth held in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization.
National Juvenile Justice Network
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.”
There are over 2,500 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.
Children of the incarcerated are about 3 times as likely as other children to be involved in the criminal justice system.
Central Connecticut State University
50% of America’s rapists; 72% of adolescent murderers; and 70% of long-term prison inmates grew up without fathers.
U.S. Department of Labor, Health & Human Services
80% of single-parent families are headed by single mothers — nearly 33% of those live in poverty.
In addition to the emotional effects of having a family member incarcerated, many families bear financial burdens as well:
For every $1 spent on prisons, there is an additional $10 in social costs — most of it borne by families.
U.S. families that have an incarcerated family member bear costs totaling $2.9 billion every year.
34% of families go into debt to pay for phone calls or visitation. 87% of these were women.
65% of families with an incarcerated member are unable to meet their families basic needs.
When a formerly incarcerated family comes home, 18% of the families are evicted, denied housing or disqualified from public housing.
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
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.
Jails in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are the three largest institutions providing psychiatric care in the U.S.
More than 450,000 people with a recent history of mental illness are incarcerated in jails and prisons. Nearly 25% of state prison inmates have suffered from a mental illness, as have about 21% of local jail inmates.
It costs about 3 times as much to house a mentally ill person in prison than in a secure psychiatric hospital.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
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.”
Since 1991, the number of children with a mother who has been to prison for a felony conviction has more than doubled.
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.
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.
33% of black males can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with 17% of Latinos, and 6% of whites.
In 48 states, a felony conviction can result in the loss of an individual’s voting rights. The period of disenfranchisement varies by state, with some states restoring the vote upon completion of a prison term, and others effectively disenfranchising for life. As a result of the dramatic expansion of the criminal justice system in the last 40 years, felony disenfranchisement has affected the political voice of many communities. As of 2016, 6.1 million Americans were unable to vote due to state felony disenfranchisement policies.
Black male offenders received on average 19% longer sentences than similarly situated white male offenders.
African Americans represent 12% of the population, 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.
13% of the US population is black, but blacks make up 37% of the prison population. Hispanics make up 18% of the population but account for 32% of prison inmates.
45% of all Americans have had an immediate family member incarcerated.
Corrections expenditures are more than 350% higher than they were in 1980.
In 1980 the US spend $77 per person on corrections. Currently it is about $260 per year for a total of annual $80 billion.
It costs over $31,000 per year to house a convict in prison.
California injects $8.6 billion a year on its prisons, averaging at $64,642 per inmate. This compares to $11,495 each Californian student receives, maintaining a $53,147 gap between prison and education spending – the biggest of any US state. New York comes in with the second-biggest gap, paying $22,366 per student compared to $69,355 per inmate. Connecticut is third with a $43,201 spending gap between the two, followed by New Jersey in fourth and Rhode Island in fifth, with gaps of $43,201 and $43,032 respectively.
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 amount of time served behind bars rose by about 5 years from 2000 to 2014. Researchers also discovered that black men, in particular, were the majority of the population of inmates serving the longest sentences.
As a prisoner ages, the likelihood of committing another crime decreases but the cost to house him or her increases. Aging inmates on average cost 8% more to imprison than younger ones.
Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General
Norway has the least severe penal system in the world. Norwegians have a clear understanding of the pointlessness of very long sentences; this is because they are not hooked on the seriousness of the crime but are focused on chances for the prisoner to reintegrate.
A widespread practice in the US known as “pay to stay” charges jail inmates a daily fee while they are incarcerated. For those who are in and out of the local county or city lock-ups – particularly those struggling with addiction – that can lead to sky-high debts.
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.”
Privatized prisons make up over 10% of the corrections market—turning over $7.4 billion per year.
The largest corporations are the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group and the Management and Training Corporation.
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.”
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.
Prison industries are big business. For example, Aramark serves 380 million meals to correctional facilities across the country each year. Corizon Health Inc. provides healthcare and pharmacy services in 26 U.S. states, serving over 332,000 inmates.
At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. These companies include: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more.
Private prison facilities house 18% of the federal prison population and 7% of state prisoners.
Over 600,000 people are released from state and federal prisons every year and at least 95% of these people will return to their communities.
27% of ex-offenders (around 1,350,000 people) nationwide are unemployed.
The majority of federal and state prisoners are parents. 1 in 28 children has a parent behind bars, and 1 in 9 African-American children has a parent incarcerated.
US Department of Health & Human Services
Many incarcerated parents were a primary source of support for their children before they went to prison. As a result, unpaid child support is a significant source of debt for incarcerated parents. For example, the average incarcerated parent with a child support case has $10,000 in arrears when entering state prison, and leaves with $20,000 in arrears. Not only is this debt unlikely to ever be collected, but it adds to the barriers formerly incarcerated parents face in reentering their communities and may interfere with their ability to obtain housing and employment.
US Department of Health & Human Services
Prison rehabilitation programs decrease the recidivism rate, decreasing the prison population. With fewer people in prison, correctional facilities need less money to operate, thus requiring less money from taxpayers.
Wharton University of Pennsylvania Public Policy Initiative
- Education in prison lowers recidivism rate by at least 43%
- Increases chances of employment by 28%
- For every $1 spent on education, reduces incarceration rate by $4-5
67% of Americans believe that building more prisons and jails does not reduce crime and 62% don’t believe that more prisons improves the quality of life in their communities
71% of Americans agree that incarceration for long periods is counterproductive to public safety due to the absence of effective rehabilitation programs in prisons.
ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice
85% of Americans support making rehabilitation the goal of the criminal justice system rather than punishment.
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
84% of state prisons offer high school classes, but only 27% offer college courses.
Wharton University of Pennsylvania Public Policy Initiative
Almost 100% of federal prisons offer vocational training compared to only 44% of private prisons and 7% of jails.
Wharton University of Pennsylvania Public Policy Initiative
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.
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.
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.
Formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.
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.
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
Eventually 95% of all prisoners in the U.S. will be released back into society.
Congressional Research Services
Each year 650,000 prisoners across the country join a population of about 19 million people who live with a felony record.
The federal government maintains 154 Residential Reentry Centers nationwide, and these facilities have a capacity of 9,778 residents.
The majority of halfway houses in the U.S. are run by private entities. For example, the for-profit GEO Group operates 30% of all halfway houses nationwide. These facilities have a capacity for 50,000 individuals.
Typically the most time a reentering citizen can stay in a halfway house is 12 months.
United States Department of Justice
For people released from prison, there are:
- Over 1,000 housing restrictions
- Almost 4,000 civic-participation restrictions
- Over 19,000 employment restrictions
Only 12.5% of employers say they will accept job applications from an ex-offender, because they think it’s bad for business.
Some employers refuse employment simply for an arrest – regardless of whether the applicant was convicted of a crime.
In 2019 the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people was 27% compared to the national rate of 3.7%.
People trying to reenter society are 10 times more likely to be homeless.
States spend nearly 10 times on prisons as they do on probation and parole, yet state probation and parole populations are 3 times the size of state prison populations.
The Justice Center Council State Governments
Eventually 43% of the people trying to reenter society are re-incarcerated.
It costs an average of $35,000 to house a prisoner per year.
The average stay for a prisoner in prison is 2.5 years
The Bureau of Justice Statistics
The US gross national product suffers a roughly $80 billion loss annually because of employment discrimination against ex-offenders.