Criminal Justice System Facts & Figures

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

Prison Policy Initiative

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

Bread for the World

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

World Prison Brief

The U.S. imprisons 698 out of every 100,000 citizens. In contrast, Syria imprisons about 60 out of every 100,000 of its citizens and Pakistan imprisons 44 out of 100,000,

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.

World Population Review

At 6 years of age, America and Mexico have the lowest age of criminal responsibility.

Nation Master

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

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


Approximately 10 million people go to jail throughout each 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.

Prison Policy Initiative

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:

  1. Oklahoma
  2. Louisiana
  3. Mississippi
  4. Georgia
  5. Alabama
  6. Arkansas
  7. Texas
  8. Arizona
  9. Kentucky
  10. Missouri

Oklahoma has 1,079 per 100,000 people incarcerated.

Prison Policy Initiative

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.”

Prison Policy Initiative

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

Human Rights Watch

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.

Single Mother Guide

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

Jails in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are the three largest institutions providing psychiatric care in the U.S.

National Public Radio (NPR)

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.

Human Rights Watch

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.”

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.


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.

The Sentencing Project

Black male offenders received on average 19% longer sentences than similarly situated white male offenders.

U.S. Sentencing Commission

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.


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 $31,000 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 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.

The Urban Institute

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.

Prison Insider

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.”

Bread for the World

Privatized prisons make up over 10% of the corrections market—turning over $7.4 billion per year.

Smart Asset

The largest corporations are the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group and the Management and Training Corporation.

Muck Rock

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 Asset

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 Asset

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.

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. Since educational, vocational, and drug rehabilitation programs decrease the likelihood that inmates will re-offend, they also allow ex-convicts to contribute to society, boosting the economy.

Wharton University of Pennsylvania Public Policy Initiative

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

Vera Institute of Justice

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

January 2018, 85% of Americans supported making rehabilitation the goal of the criminal justice system rather than punishment.

Justice Action Network

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

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

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


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.

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

Formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.

Prison Policy Initiative

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