Incarceration, by the numbers


The Decarcerate Plainfield and NJ Youth panel discussion is tomorrow, Tuesday, February 24. Take a glimpse at mass incarceration through these 24 mind-blowing stats about the size and scope of prison in America, and its inequality:

1.  The US has the highest prison population, by both proportion and number, in the world, having 5% of the world’s population and 20% of its prisoners. There are around 2.2 million incarcerated people in America.


Source: “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences,” The National Research Council, 2014.

2. For blacks and Latinos, the story is far worse. As of 2010, the Hispanic rate stands at 742, and African-American incarceration is 2,207 per 100,000. For whites it’s 412 – which itself is almost three times as high as most industrialized countries.

3. The US incarceration rate has risen four fold since the 1970s – the actually population nearly 8 times. The is largely due to the large scale admission of those sentences for drug crimes.

US_incarceration_timeline 4. The incarceration rates for those of Puerto Rican descent is harder to pin down, but based on the limited data available, it’s likely upwards of 1,000 per 100,000.

5. The most imprisoned ethnicity elsewhere in the world are likely the Maori people of New Zealand, with 700 per 100,000.

6. African-Americans are 0.6% of the world population and around 12% of its prisoners.

7. Thirty-seven percent of black male high school dropouts between 20 and 34 are in jail on any given day, and the vast majority will go to jail at some point in their lifetime. The incarceration rates of white men of that age range with no diploma (12%) are far lower in comparison, yet still exceedingly high.

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Percentage of men aged 20 to 34 in prison or jail, by race/ethnicity and education, 1980 and 2008. Source: Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes, and Bruce Western “Technical Report on revised Population Estimates and NLSY79 Analysis Tables for the Pew Public Safety and Mobility Project (harvard University, 2009)

8. Unemployment rates do not include the incarcerated. Inclusion would show a much different picture of the US economy, and the inclusion of younger blacks and latinos in that economy.

9. The American incarceration rate declined by 0.4% from 2012 to 2013. At that rate, it would take over 200 years to bring the US prison rate back down to pre-1980 numbers.

10. This is despite the fact that crime rates have fluctuated wildly over the past three decades, with no direct relation to increases of incarceration. Violent crime increased to a 1991 peak before returning to around 1980 levels in 2014.

11. A full 55% of men and 73% of women in prison have symptoms of a current mental health problem.

12. Hispanics are twice as likely as whites to be incarcerated nationwide. That number rises to as high as seven times in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, partly due to highly incarcerated Puerto Rican communities.

13. Rates of children admitted to adult prison was seven times higher amongst blacks compared to whites. Hispanic and Native American juveniles were twice as likely to suffer this fate.

14. Blacks are hardly more likely to smoke marijuana than whites, yet are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested – as high as 8 times in some states, a ratio that grows to 10:1 in certain counties. Ninety percent of weed arrests are for possession alone.

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15. Regardless, in many states these minor convictions effect employment prospects and sentencing for future offenses despite the fact that only 6% of arrests lead to felony convictions.

16. Marijuana provides police with a plausible crime they can use as justification to perform otherwise illegal searches and seizures of African-Americans and Hispanics that potentially find more punishable offenses.

17. Blacks are ten times more likely than whites to go to prison for drug offenses, largely explained by hyper-surveillance.

18. Hispanics in federal prison are half as likely (19%) to have been treated for substance abuse as whites (39%).

19. Solitary confinement – living alone in a cell for 23 to 24 hours per day- is torture by many international standards. US prisons confine inmates for all sorts of reasons, including unverified accusations from other inmates, political activity, and organizing.

20. A 2000 study found that over 80,000 American prisoners were held in solitary confinement. Current estimates are similar. This figure doesn’t include prisoners in solitary in juvenile facilities, local jails, and immigrant detention centers.

21. One in 19 black women will go to jail. One in 45 hispanic women. One in 118 white women.

22. One in 25 women are pregnant while admitted to state prisons, one in 33 for federal inmates. A majority of babies are separated immediately following birth.

23. Women are even more likely to have committed a non-violent and drug offense than men. 54% of men were admitted for violent crimes nationally, against only 35% of women.

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Men are in orange, women in blue. Source: Carson, A. & Sabol, W. (2012). Prisoners in 2011. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics

24. The consequences of having a conviction far outlast the sentence – and regardless of whether time is served. They often lead to lifetime disenfranchisement in employment, voting, and ability to receive government aid.

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