More people are locked up in the United States per capita than in any other country. In a state such as New York, the incarceration rate is well below the national average, yet it is more than twice as high as rates in the United Kingdom, Canada, and France.
The slideshow on mass incarceration looks at confinement in the United States, which imprisons more of its population than any other country. The information is drawn from data published by nonprofit research group Prison Policy Initiative—data was last updated March 19, 2019.
The nearly 2.3 million incarcerated people are housed among more than 1,700 state prisons and more than 100 federal prisons, as well as thousands of local jails, juvenile correctional facilities, Indian Country jails, military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and state psychiatric hospitals. The number of prisoners is fluid, the vast array of facilities makes record-keeping frustrating and comparisons are difficult.
Certain segments of the population are disproportionately locked up. Black Americans comprise 40% of the incarcerated population, yet they make up only 13% of U.S. residents. People who get imprisoned are overwhelmingly poor, with a median annual income less than half of those who do not go to jail or prison.
It is pre-trial detention, made up of the poor who are not convicted of any crime but cannot afford bail, that keeps America's jails and prisons full. One in three people confined—more than 700,000 overall—sit in a local jail, typically too poor to make bail. Most people in federal and state prisons are confined more than 100 miles away from their families, leaving loved ones without support and straining already limited resources for visits and communication.
Policymakers, politicians, experts, and advocates wrestle with a need for public security, calls to be tough on crime, biased policing practices, mandatory sentencing, the financial cost of mass incarceration, the value of reforms to ease pressure on an overburdened system, and whether resources might be put to better use in crime prevention, job training, and drug treatment programs that may stem the unparalleled flow of people put behind bars.
Read on to learn about mass incarceration in the United States.