United States Incarceration Rate

How many people were sentenced to prison in 2011 in the United States? This statistic is hard to come by online. The only measured incarceration rate I've come across is the amount of people incarcerated per 100,000 people.

The DoJ published this paper in December 2011 and released prison statistics for 2010. According to the article the number of people in prison at year-end'10 was 7.1 million of which 2,226,800 people were sentenced in 2010 itself [table 1, in that paper].

This wikipedia article also has a lot of detail on this subject. I think you can extrapolate the figures in the DoJ article with the 2011 rates mentioned in the wikipedia article and compute the number of people in Jail in 2011.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States - Causes, Consequences, and Proposed Reforms

For much of the last century, the United States locked up offenders at a moderate but stable rate – but after the 1960s, imprisonment shot up. By 2011, close to one of every hundred U.S. adults, some 2.2 million people, were confined in jail or prison. What drove this sharply increased reliance on imprisonment – unprecedented in U.S. history and far exceeding other Western democracies? And how has mass incarceration affected crime, prisoners and their families, and American society?

The National Academy of Sciences appointed a committee of experts in criminal justice and the social sciences to explore these issues and recommend appropriate policy reforms. In its April 2014 report, the committee calls for steps to reduce the incarceration rate through a series of changes in U.S. penal policy and social programs. Its recommendations are grounded in voluminous evidence showing that mass incarceration has not clearly reduced crime yet has likely damaged prisoners, families, and American society.

Crime and Massive Punishment

A steep upturn in the U.S. incarceration rate started in the 1970s, a period of rising crime, social unrest, and major transformations in race relations. State and federal governments chose to respond by imprisoning many more people, including those found guilty of drug offenses as well as violent crimes. Many states eliminated judges’ discretion and mandated heavy sentences for violent crimes and repeat offenders. In the 1990s, many also passed “truth in sentencing” laws that required most offenders to complete 85% of their sentences.

Mass incarceration raises serious issues of social justice, because it has been heavily skewed toward poor minority men with less than high school educational attainments. African American male high school dropouts are one hundred times more likely to be sent to prison than college-educated white men. Remarkably, as of 2010, more than one-third of African American male high school dropouts aged 20 to 39 were in jails or state or federal prisons.

Congress and state legislatures sent so many offenders to prison in the hope that crime rates would be sharply reduced. But during the decades when prisons filled, crime rates fluctuated. Crime plummeted in the 1990s, but only ten percent of the decline was due to rising incarceration. Even as crime fell to its lowest level in decades, draconian penalties have remained in place – as U.S. prisons admit new convicts and continue to hold many aging offenders who could be supervised in the community at little cost to taxpayers or public safety.

Many unintended harmful consequences have flowed from the prison boom.

    Prisoners have been crowded into facilities where health care is often poor and opportunities for work or education are scarce. Once released, former prisoners struggle to reenter society. Often they cannot land jobs and their earnings remain low. Many cannot find adequate housing, yet many states make former prisoners ineligible for public housing, as well as for other supports such as Food Stamps or student loans.

Because mass incarceration has led to social harms without significantly improving public safety, Americans across the political spectrum are now calling for changes. Three sets of practical, common-sense steps can be taken very soon:

    Reexamine sentencing policies. Very long and mandatory sentences have little deterrent effect and should be re-examined. Drug penalties need revision, because imprisoning more drug offenders has not led to any reduction in drug use.

The United States Leads the World in Incarceration

Indeed, the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. The U.S. prison population increased 500 percent in the past 40 years. Crime rates haven’t increased proportionately in that same time. Instead, the dramatic increase in prison populations can be directly tied to law and policy changes that are directly tied to the oversized role of race and racism in America.

Those laws and policies contribute to prison overcrowding and a tremendous state financial burden – $80 billion a year – despite overwhelming evidence that increased incarceration does not effectively lower crime rates or increase public safety. Most research has found that for every 10 percent increase in incarceration rates between 1980 and 2000, crime was only reduced by two to four percent. A study from the Vera Institute of Justice found that, since 2000, increased incarceration hasn’t reduced the crime rate at all.

Police Brutality

  • 1,025 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year.
  • There are somewhere between 900 and 1,100 people who are shot and killed by police in the United States each year.
  • Since 2005, 98 non-federal law enforcement officers have been arrested in connection with fatal, on-duty shootings. To date, only 35 of these officers have been convicted of a crime, often a lesser offense such as manslaughter or negligent homicide, rather than murder. Only three officers have been convicted of murder during this period and seen their convictions stand. Another 22 officers were acquitted in a jury trial and nine were acquitted during a bench trial decided by a judge. 10 other cases were dismissed by a judge or a prosecutor, and in one instance no true bill was returned from a grand jury. Currently, there are 21 non-federal law enforcement officers with pending criminal cases for fatal shootings.

Public Perception of Police Brutality and Racial Bias in the Criminal Justice System

There is an obvious disparity in how the general public view fatal encounters between police and Black people. 66% said these encounters were isolated incidents.

  • 84% of Black adults say white people are treated better than black people by police 63% of white adults agree based on 2019 research on police relations.
  • 87% of Black adults say the U.S. criminal justice system is more unjust towards Black people 61% of white adults agree.
  • Despite the fact that more white people have been killed by police, Black and Hispanic people are disproportionately impacted. While white people make up a little over 60% of the population, they only make up about 41% of fatal police shootings. Black people make up 13.4% of the population, but make up 22% of fatal police shootings. This does not take into consideration other forms of police brutality, including non-lethal shootings.

The number of people shot to death by the police in the United States from 2017 to 2020, by race.

  • 539 claims were filed during the 2018-2019 fiscal year against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office related to police misconduct. Two-hundred and forty-one lawsuits were dismissed without any payments. LAPD has approximately 9,000 sworn officers.

The Effects of Police Brutality on Mental Health

  • Police killings of unarmed Black Americans are responsible for more than 50 million additional days of poor mental health per year among Black Americans. This mental health burden is comparable to that associated with diabetes, a disease that strikes 1 in 5 Black Americans.
  • Fatal police violence is the 6th leading cause of death for men ages 25 to 29 across all racial groups.
  • The lifetime risk of dying from police violence is at its highest from ages 20 to 35, and this applies to men and women of all races.
  • On average, Black Americans are exposed to four police killings of other unarmed Black Americans in the same state each year.

The Cost of Police Brutality

  • While many police brutality and fatal police shootings are not prosecuted in criminal court, victims and the families of victims have been able to pursue civil judgments, which cost millions of taxpayers dollars each year.
  • $175.9 million in civil judgments and claims for police-related lawsuits paid by New York City during the 2019 fiscal year. New York City has the largest police force with 36,000 members serving 8.3 million people.
  • $500 million was paid out by the City of Chicago between 2004 and 2014 for police misconduct-related lawsuits.

Second Chances Through Successful Reentry

Ratio of Government Employment to Population

While the private sector has added jobs to the economy in every month since March 2010, a total increase of approximately 6.8 million jobs through April 2013, the public sector has contracted. This figure shows the ratio of government employment to the civilian non-institutional population going back to 1980. For the twenty years prior to the Great Recession, this ratio stayed relatively constant, but since then it has dropped precipitously (except for the temporary uptick in 2010 when government employment rose to accommodate demand for U.S. Census workers).

U.S. National Defense Outlays

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) legislated $500 billion of cuts to the national defense budget over the next ten years&mdashan abrupt change that could weaken the Department of Defense (DoD) if the cuts are not distributed efficiently. However, as this graph demonstrates, sudden and significant changes to defense spending are not new challenges.

Debt-to-GDP Ratio under Various Policy Assumptions, 2012-2023

Over the next ten years, approximately $4 trillion of deficit reduction are set to take place through the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA) and the sequestration, which went into effect on March 1, 2013. This graph, from the introduction of The Hamilton Project&rsquos 15 Ways to Rethink the Federal Budget shows how these policies are projected to affect the debt-to-GDP ratio over the next decade.

Correctional Rate in the United States, 1980-2014

Over the past 30 years incarceration in the United States has increased to unprecedented levels, with about 2.25 million Americans held in local jails or in state and federal prisons in 2014.

Mean Time Expected to be Served in State Prisons

Prison populations can increase when more people enter prison or when convicted prisoners receive longer sentences. These charts show how longer sentences have impacted state prison populations over time, as well as the how the type of crime committed impacts sentence length.

Corrections Spending per Capita

In 2012 the United States spent more than $265 billion ($845 per person) on criminal justice, including corrections, policing, and judicial expenses. States and local governments shoulder the largest share, totaling $213 billion.


In the 1700s, English philanthropists began to focus on the reform of convicted criminals in prisons, which they believed needed a chance to become morally pure in order to stop or slow crime. Since at least 1740, some of these philosophers began thinking of solitary confinement as a way to create and maintain spiritually clean people in prisons. As English people immigrated to North America, so did these theories of penology. [20]

Spanish colonizers also brought ideas on confinement [ clarification needed ] and Spanish soldiers in St. Augustine, Florida built the first substantial prison. [ when? ] [21]

Some of the first structures built in English-settled America were jails, and by the 18th century, every English North American county had a jail. These jails served a variety of functions such as a holding place for debtors, prisoners-of-war, and political prisoners, those bound in the penal transportation and slavery systems, and of those accused-of but not tried for crimes. [20] [21] Sentences for those convicted of crimes were rarely longer than three months, and often lasted only a day. Poor citizens were often imprisoned for longer than their richer neighbors, as bail was rarely not accepted. [20]

One of the first prisons in America was founded in 1790 by the Pennsylvanian Quakers. The Quakers wanted something that was less cruel than dungeon prisons. They created a space where prisoners could read scriptures and repent as a means of self-improvement. [22]

In 1841, Dorothea Dix discovered that prison conditions in the US were, in her opinion, inhumane. Prisoners were chained naked, whipped with rods. Others, criminally insane, were caged, or placed in cellars, or closets. She insisted on changes throughout the rest of her life. While focusing on the insane, her comments also resulted in changes for other inmates. [23]

After the Civil War and really gaining momentum during the Progressive Era of America, new concepts of the prison system, such as parole, indeterminate sentencing, and probation, were introduced. These soon became mainstream practices in America. At this time there was an increase in crime causing officials to handle crime in a more retributive way. Many Sicilian Americans were harshly effected by this. [24] But, as the crime rate declined, they started to focus more on rehabilitation.

Researcher Valerie Jenness writes, “Since the 1970s, the final wave of expansion of the prison system, there has been a huge expansion of prisons that exist at the federal and state level. Now, prisons are starting to become a private industry as more and more prisons are starting to become privatized rather than being under government control.” [22]

This systemic oppression began with practices such as Jim Crow laws and morphed into more nuanced, but just as impactful actions such as the declaration of the War on Drugs. [25]

With the conclusion of the Jim Crow era comes what is hailed as “The War on Drugs” (1971-) -- a feigned attack on street drugs and drug abuse that have flooded primarily impoverished, predominantly black neighborhoods across the country. This crackdown on drugs serves more as an attack on black people for African-Americans are swept off of the streets in masses and are then punished with deliberately lengthy sentences for minor, first-time offenses, sentences roughly 20% longer than white people accused of the same crime People, as Nixon put it, who deserved only incarceration and punishment to stain the rest of their lives. [26]

Nixon's most vital action that has directly allowed for such disproportionate rates in American prisons today was transforming the public image of the drug user into one of a dangerous and anarchic threat to American ideals and its people as a civilization. [25]

A substantial body of research claims that incarceration rates are primarily a function of media editorial policies, largely unrelated to the actual crime rate. Researchers say that the jump in incarceration rate from 0.1% to 0.5% of the United States population from 1975 to 2000 (documented in the figure above) was driven by changes in the editorial policies of the mainstream commercial media and is unrelated to any actual changes in crime. Media consolidation reduced competition on content. That allowed media company executives to maintain substantially the same audience while slashing budgets for investigative journalism and filling the space from the police blotter. It is safer, easier and cheaper to write about crimes committed by poor people than the wealthy. People with money can sue for defamation, an alternative that is largely unavailable to poor people. Moreover, every major media organization has a conflict of interest on reporting on anyone who control a substantive portion of their revenue, like any major advertiser in the US. [27]

News media thrive on feeding frenzies, because they tend to reduce production costs while simultaneously building an audience interested in the latest development in a particular story. It takes a long time for a reporter to learn enough to write intelligently about a specific issue. Once a reporter has achieved that level of knowledge, it is easier to write subsequent stories. However, major advertisers have been known to spend their advertising budgets through different channels when they dislike the editorial policies. Therefore, a media feeding frenzy focusing on an issue of concern to an advertiser may reduce revenue and profits. [28]

Sacco described how "competing news organizations responded to each other's coverage [while] the police, in their role as gatekeepers of crime news, reacted to the increased media interest by making available more stories that reflected and reinforced" a particular theme. "[T]he dynamics of competitive journalism created a media feeding frenzy that found news workers 'snatching at shocking numbers' and 'smothering reports of stable or decreasing use under more ominous headlines.'" [29]

The reasons cited above for increased incarcerations (US racial demographics, Increased sentencing laws, and Drug sentencing laws) have been described as consequences of the shift in editorial policies of the mainstream media. [30]

Additionally, media coverage has been proven to have a profound impact on criminal sentencing. [31]

In the United States, criminal law is a concurrent power. Individuals who violate state laws and/or territorial laws generally are placed in state or territorial prisons, while those who violate United States federal law are generally placed in federal prisons operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), an agency of the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ). [a] The BOP also houses adult felons convicted of violating District of Columbia laws due to the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997.

As of 2004, state prisons proportionately house more violent felons, so state prisons in general gained a more negative reputation compared to federal prisons. [32]

In 2016, almost 90% of prisoners were in state prisons 10% were in federal prisons. [33]

At sentencing in federal court, judges use a point system to determine which inmate goes into which housing branch. This helps federal law employees to determine who goes to which facility and to which punishing housing unit to send them. Another method to determine housing is the admission committees. In prisons, multiple people come together to determine to which housing unit an inmate belongs. Case managers, psychologists, and social workers provide input into what is appropriate for the inmate. [34]

US and territories. [35]
Incarcerated population.
Adult and juvenile inmates.
Number of
in 2008
Total 2,418,352
Federal and state prisons 1,518,559
Local jails 785,556
Juvenile facilities (2007) [11] 86,927
Territorial prisons 13,576
ICE facilities 9,957
Jails in tribal territories 2,135
Military facilities 1,651

As of 2016, 2.3 million people were incarcerated in the United States, at a rate of 698 people per 100,000. [36] Total US incarceration peaked in 2008. Total correctional population (prison, jail, probation, parole) peaked in 2007. [2] In 2008 the US had around 24.7% of the world's 9.8 million prisoners. [11] [35] [37]

In 2016, almost 7 million people were under some type of control by the correction industry (incarcerated, on probation or parole, etc.). [36] 3.6 million of those people were on probation and 840,000 were on parole. [36] In recent decades the U.S. has experienced a surge in its prison population, quadrupling since 1980, partially as a result of mandatory sentencing that came about during the "War on Drugs."

Nearly 53,000 youth were incarcerated in 2015. [38] 4,656 of those were held in adult facilities, while the rest were in juvenile facilities. Of those in juvenile facilities, 69% are 16 or older, while over 500 are 12 or younger. [38] The Prison Policy Initiative broke down those numbers, finding that "black and American Indian youth are overrepresented in juvenile facilities while white and asian youth are underrepresented." [38] Black youth comprise 14% of the national youth population, but "43% of boys and 34% of girls in juvenile facilities are black. And even excluding youth held in Indian country facilities, American Indians make up 3% of girls and 1.5% of boys in juvenile facilities, despite comprising less than 1% of all youth nationally." [38]

As of 2009, the three states with the lowest ratios of imprisoned people per 100,000 population are Maine (150 per 100,000), Minnesota (189 per 100,000), and New Hampshire (206 per 100,000). The three states with the highest ratio are Louisiana (881 per 100,000), Mississippi (702 per 100,000) and Oklahoma (657 per 100,000). [39] A 2018 study by the Prison Policy Initiative placed Oklahoma's incarceration rate as 1,079, supplanting Louisiana (with a rate of 1,052) as "the world's prison capital." [40] [41]

A 2005 report estimated that 27% of federal prison inmates are noncitizens, convicted of crimes while in the country legally or illegally. [42] However, federal prison inmates account for six percent of the total incarcerated population noncitizen populations in state and local prisons are more difficult to establish.

Duration Edit

Many legislatures continually have reduced discretion of judges in both the sentencing process and the determination of when the conditions of a sentence have been satisfied. Determinate sentencing, use of mandatory minimums, and guidelines-based sentencing continue to remove the human element from sentencing, such as the prerogative of the judge to consider the mitigating or extenuating circumstances of a crime to determine the appropriate length of the incarceration. As the consequence of "three strikes laws," the increase in the duration of incarceration in the last decade was most pronounced in the case of life prison sentences, which increased by 83% between 1992 and 2003 while violent crimes fell in the same period. [43]

Violent and nonviolent crime Edit

In 2016, there were an estimated 1.2 million violent crimes committed in the United States. [44] Over the course of that year, U.S. law enforcement agencies made approximately 10.7 million arrests, excluding arrests for traffic violations. [44] In that year, approximately 2.3 million people were incarcerated in jail or prison. [45]

As of September 30, 2009 in federal prisons, 7.9% of sentenced prisoners were incarcerated for violent crimes, [39] while at year end 2008 of sentenced prisoners in state prisons, 52.4% had been jailed for violent crimes. [39] In 2002 (latest available data by type of offense), 21.6% of convicted inmates in jails were in prison for violent crimes. Among unconvicted inmates in jails in 2002, 34% had a violent offense as the most serious charge. 41% percent of convicted and unconvicted jail inmates in 2002 had a current or prior violent offense 46% were nonviolent recidivists. [46]

The reality of there being inmates serving life sentences for minor, first-time offenses is harsh. Black males are statistically sentenced to longer incarceration terms than that of white males in parallel, nonviolent offenses. Prison is intended to ensure the safety of the public by removing threats to national security from the public population and moving them into the prison population. Nonviolent offenders, under the mandatory minimum sentencing, are left to spend long durations incarcerated. [47]

From 2000 to 2008, the state prison population increased by 159,200 prisoners, and violent offenders accounted for 60% of this increase. The number of drug offenders in state prisons declined by 12,400 over this period. Furthermore, while the number of sentenced violent offenders in state prison increased from 2000 through 2008, the expected length of stays for these offenders declined slightly during this period. [39]

Mandatory sentencing for nonviolent crime can lead to life sentences. In 2013, The Week reported that at least 3,278 Americans were serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent crimes, including "cursing at a policeman and selling $10 worth of drugs. More than 80 percent of these life sentences are the result of mandatory sentencing laws." [48]

In 2016, about 200,000, under 16%, of the 1.3 million people in state jails, were serving time for drug offenses. 700,000 were incarcerated for violent offenses. [33]

Violent crime was not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States from 1980 to 2003. Violent crime rates had been relatively constant or declining over those decades. The prison population was increased primarily by public policy changes causing more prison sentences and lengthening time served, for example through mandatory minimum sentencing, "three strikes" laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release. 49% of sentenced state inmates were held for violent offenses.

Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national "War on Drugs". The War on Drugs initiative expanded during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. During Reagan's term, a bi-partisan Congress established the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, galvanized by the death of Len Bias. According to the Human Rights Watch, legislation like this led to the extreme increase in drug offense imprisonment and "increasing racial disproportions among the arrestees". [49] The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges. [50] [51] In 2011, 55.6% of the 1,131,210 sentenced prisoners in state prisons were being held for violent crimes (this number excludes the 200,966 prisoners being held due to parole violations, of which 39.6% were re-incarcerated for a subsequent violent crime). [52] Also in 2011, 3.7% of the state prison population consisted of prisoners whose highest conviction was for drug possession (again excluding those incarcerated for parole violations of which 6.0% were re-incarcerated for a subsequent act of drug possession). [52]

Inmates held pre-trial Edit

In 2020, the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative issued a report,"Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020," that said, based on the most recent census data and information from the Bureau of Prisons, an overwhelming majority of inmates in county and municipal jails were being held pre-trial, without having been convicted of a crime. The Pre-Trial Justice Institute noted, "Six out of 10 people in U.S. jails—nearly a half million individuals on any given day—are awaiting trial. People who have not been found guilty of the charges against them account for 95% of all jail population growth between 2000–2014." [53] [54]

In 2017, 482,100 inmates in federal and state prisons were held pre-trial. [55]

Advocates for decarceration contend the large pre-trial detention population serves as a compelling reason for bail reform anchored in a presumption of innocence. [56] "We don't want people sitting in jails only because they cannot afford their financial bail," said Representative John Tilley (D) of Kentucky, a state that has eliminated commercial bail and relies on a risk assessment to determine a defendant's flight risk. [57]

In March, 2020, the Department of Justice issued its report, noting the county and municipal jail population, totaling 738,400 inmates, had decreased by 12% over the last decade, from an estimated 258 jail inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2008 to 226 per 100,000 in 2018. For the first time since 1990, the 2018 jail incarceration rate for African Americans fell below 600 per 100,000, while the juvenile jail population dropped 56%, from 7,700 to 3,400. [58]

In 2018, sixty-eight percent of jail inmates were behind bars on felony charges, about two-thirds of the total jail population was awaiting court action or held for other reasons. [59]

Recidivism Edit

A 2002 study survey, showed that among nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and 51.8% were back in prison. [60] However, the study found no evidence that spending more time in prison raises the recidivism rate, and found that those serving the longest time, 61 months or more, had a slightly lower re-arrest rate (54.2%) than every other category of prisoners. This is most likely explained by the older average age of those released with the longest sentences, and the study shows a strong negative correlation between recidivism and age upon release. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a study was conducted that tracked 404,638 prisoners in 30 states after their release from prison in 2005. From the examination it was found that within three years after their release 67.8% of the released prisoners were rearrested within five years, 76.6% of the released prisoners were rearrested, and of the prisoners that were rearrested 56.7% of them were rearrested by the end of their first year of release. [61]

Shift in state budget priorities Edit

In the aftermath of decades-long tough on crime legislation that increased the US inmate population from 200,000 in 1973 to over two million in 2009, financially strapped states and cities turned to electronic monitoring in the United States—wrist and ankle monitors—to reduce inmate populations as courts mandated inmate reductions in overcrowded prisons, and states realigned their budgets to address other priorities in education, housing and infrastructure.

Comparison with other countries Edit

With around 100 prisoners per 100,000, the United States had an average prison and jail population until 1980. Afterwards it drifted apart considerably. The United States has the highest prison and jail population (2,121,600 in adult facilities in 2016) as well as the highest incarceration rate in the world (655 per 100,000 population in 2016). [3] [62] [63] According to the World Prison Population List (11th edition) there were around 10.35 million people in penal institutions worldwide in 2015. [64] The US had 2,173,800 prisoners in adult facilities in 2015. [65] That means the US held 21.0% of the world's prisoners in 2015, even though the US represented only around 4.4 percent of the world's population in 2015, [66] [67]

Comparing other English-speaking developed countries, whereas the incarceration rate of the US is 655 per 100,000 population of all ages, [3] the incarceration rate of Canada is 114 per 100,000 (as of 2015), [68] England and Wales is 146 per 100,000 (as of 2016), [69] and Australia is 160 per 100,000 (as of 2016). [70] Comparing other developed countries, the rate of Spain is 133 per 100,000 (as of 2016), [71] Greece is 89 per 100,000 (as of 2016), [72] Norway is 73 per 100,000 (as of 2016), [73] Netherlands is 69 per 100,000 (as of 2014), [74] and Japan is 48 per 100,000 (as of 2014). [75]

A 2008 New York Times article, [63] said that "it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher."

The U.S. incarceration rate peaked in 2008 when about 1 in 100 US adults was behind bars. [76] This incarceration rate exceeded the average incarceration levels in the Soviet Union during the existence of the Gulag system, when the Soviet Union's population reached 168 million, and 1.2 to 1.5 million people were in the Gulag prison camps and colonies (i.e. about 0.8 imprisoned per 100 USSR residents, according to numbers from Anne Applebaum and Steven Rosefielde). [77] [78] In The New Yorker article The Caging of America (2012), Adam Gopnik writes: "Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height." [79]

Race and ethnicity Edit

2010. Inmates in adult facilities, by race and ethnicity. Jails, and state and federal prisons. [80]
Race, ethnicity % of US population % of U.S.
Incarceration rate
(per 100,000)
White (non-Hispanic) 64 39 450
Hispanic 16 19 831
Black 13 40 2,306
Asian 5.6 1.5 210

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2018 black males accounted for 34% of the total male prison population, white males 29%, and Hispanic males 24%. White females comprised 47% of the prison population in comparison to black females who accounted for 18% of the female population. The imprisonment rate for black females (88 per 100,000 black female residents) was 1.8 times as high as for white females (49 per 100,000 white female residents), while the imprisonment rate for black males (2,272 per 100,000 black male residents) was 5.8 times as high as for white males (392 per 100,000 white male residents). Out of all ethnic groups, African Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, and Native Americans have some of the highest rates of incarceration. [82] [83] [84] [85] [86] [87] [88] [89] [90] Though, of these groups, the black population is the largest, and therefore make up a large portion of those incarcerated in US prisons and jails. [ clarification needed ] [91]

Hispanics (of all races) were 20.6% of the total jail and prison population in 2009. [92] Hispanics comprised 16.3% of the US population according to the 2010 US census. [93] [94] The Northeast has the highest incarceration rates of Hispanics in the nation. [95] Connecticut has the highest Hispanic-to-White incarceration ratio with 6.6 Hispanic males for every white male. The National Average Hispanic-to-White incarceration ratio is 1.8. Other states with high Hispanic-to-White incarcerations include Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York. [96] [97]

In 2010, adult black non-Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Adult white males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Adult Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. [1] (For female rates see the table below.) Asian Americans have lower incarceration rates than any other racial group, including white Americans. [98]

There is general agreement in the literature that black people are more likely to be arrested for violent crimes than white people in the United States. Whether this is the case for less serious crimes is less clear. [99] Black-majority cities have similar crime statistics for black people as do cities where majority of population is white. For example, white-plurality San Diego has a slightly lower crime rate for black people than does Atlanta, a city which has black-majority in population and city government. [100]

In 2013, by age 18, 30% of black males, 26% of Hispanic males, and 22% of white males have been arrested. By age 23, 49% of Black males, 44% of Hispanic males, and 38% of white males have been arrested. [101] According to Attorney Antonio Moore in his Huffington Post article, "there are more African American men incarcerated in the U.S. than the total prison populations in India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined." There are only 19 million African American males in the United States, but collectively these countries represent over 1.6 billion people. [102] Moore has also shown using data from the World Prison Brief [103] & United States Department of Justice [104] that there are more black males incarcerated in the United States than all women imprisoned globally. To give perspective there are just about 4 billion woman in total globally, there are only 19 million black males of all ages in the United States. [ citation needed ]

According to a 2020 review study, mass incarceration in the United States "cannot be explained without reference to the centrality of racial politics." [105]

Gender Edit

2010 adult incarceration rates
by race, ethnicity, and sex
per 100,000 adult US residents [1]
Race or
Male Female

White 678 91
Black 4,347 260
Hispanic 1,775 133

In 2013, there were 102,400 adult females in local jails in the United States, and 111,300 adult females in state and federal prisons. [2] Within the US, the rate of female incarceration increased fivefold in a two decade span ending in 2001 the increase occurred because of increased prosecutions and convictions of offenses related to recreational drugs, increases in the severities of offenses, and a lack of community sanctions and treatment for women who violate laws. [106] In the United States, authorities began housing women in correctional facilities separate from men in the 1870s. [107]

In 2013, there were 628,900 adult males in local jails in the United States, and 1,463,500 adult males in state and federal prisons. [2] In a study of sentencing in the United States in 1984, David B. Mustard found that males received 12 percent longer prison terms than females after "controlling for the offense level, criminal history, district, and offense type," and noted that "females receive even shorter sentences relative to men than whites relative to blacks." [108] A later study by Sonja B. Starr found sentences for men to be up to 60% higher when controlling for more variables. [109] Several explanations for this disparity have been offered, including that women have more to lose from incarceration, and that men are the targets of discrimination in sentencing. [110]

Youth Edit

Juveniles in residential
placement, 1997–2015. US [11]
Year Male Female Total

1997 90,771 14,284 105,055
1999 92,985 14,508 107,493
2001 89,115 15,104 104,219
2003 81,975 14,556 96,531
2006 78,998 13,723 92,721
2007 75,017 11,797 86,814
2010 61,359 9,434 70,793
2011 53,079 8,344 61,423
2013 46,421 7,727 54,148
2015 40,750 7,293 48,043

Through the juvenile courts and the adult criminal justice system, the United States incarcerates more of its youth than any other country in the world, a reflection of the larger trends in incarceration practices in the United States. This has been a source of controversy for a number of reasons, including the overcrowding and violence in youth detention facilities, the prosecution of youths as adults and the long term consequences of incarceration on the individual's chances for success in adulthood. In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized the United States for about ten judicial abuses, including the mistreatment of juvenile inmates. [111] A UN report published in 2015 criticized the US for being the only nation in the world to sentence juveniles to life imprisonment without parole. [112]

According to federal data from 2011, around 40% of the nation's juvenile inmates are housed in private facilities. [113]

The incarceration of youths has been linked to the effects of family and neighborhood influences. One study found that the "behaviors of family members and neighborhood peers appear to substantially affect the behavior and outcomes of disadvantaged youths". [114]

Aged Edit

The percentage of prisoners in federal and state prisons aged 55 and older increased by 33% from 2000 to 2005 while the prison population grew by 8%. The Southern Legislative Conference found that in 16 southern states, the elderly prisoner population increased on average by 145% between 1997 and 2007. The growth in the elderly population brought along higher health care costs, most notably seen in the 10% average increase in state prison budgets from 2005 to 2006.

The SLC expects the percentage of elderly prisoners relative to the overall prison population to continue to rise. Ronald Aday, a professor of aging studies at Middle Tennessee State University and author of Aging Prisoners: Crisis in American Corrections, concurs. One out of six prisoners in California is serving a life sentence. Aday predicts that by 2020 16% percent of those serving life sentences will be elderly. [115] [116]

State governments pay all of their inmates' housing costs which significantly increase as prisoners age. Inmates are unable to apply for Medicare and Medicaid. Most Departments of Correction report spending more than 10 percent of the annual budget on elderly care. [115] [116]

The American Civil Liberties Union published a report in 2012 which asserts that the elderly prison population has climbed 1300% since the 1980s, with 125,000 inmates aged 55 or older now incarcerated. [117]

LGBT people Edit

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) youth are disproportionately more likely than the general population to come into contact with the criminal justice system. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 16 percent of transgender adults have been in prison and/or jail, compared to 2.7 percent of all adults. [118] It has also been found that 13–15 percent of youth in detention identify as LGBT, whereas an estimated 4–8 percent of the general youth population identify as such. [119]

The reasons behind these disproportionate numbers are multi-faceted and complex. [ citation needed ] Poverty, homelessness, profiling [ citation needed ] by law enforcement, and imprisonment are disproportionately experienced by transgender and gender non-conforming people. [119] LGBT youth not only experience these same challenges, but many also live in homes unwelcoming to their identities. [120] This often results in LGBT youth running away and/or engaging in criminal activities, such as the drug trade, sex work, and/or theft, which places them at higher risk for arrest. Because of discriminatory practices and limited access to resources, transgender adults are also more likely to engage in criminal activities to be able to pay for housing, health care, and other basic needs. [120]

LGBT people in jail and prison are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment by other inmates and staff. This mistreatment includes solitary confinement (which may be described as "protective custody"), physical and sexual violence, verbal abuse, and denial of medical care and other services. [118] [121] According to the National Inmate Survey, in 2011–12, 40 percent of transgender inmates reported sexual victimization compared to 4 percent of all inmates. [122]

Mental illness Edit

In the United States, the percentage of inmates with mental illness has been steadily increasing, with rates more than quadrupling from 1998 to 2006. [123] Many have attributed this trend to the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill persons beginning in the 1960s, when mental hospitals across the country began closing their doors. [124] [125] However, other researchers indicate that "there is no evidence for the basic criminalization premise that decreased psychiatric services explain the disproportionate risk of incarceration for individuals with mental illness". [126]

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over half of all prisoners in 2005 had experienced mental illness as identified by "a recent history or symptoms of a mental health problem" of this population, jail inmates experienced the highest rates of symptoms of mental illness at 60 percent, followed by 49 percent of state prisoners and 40 percent of federal prisoners. [127] Not only do people with recent histories of mental illness end up incarcerated, but many who have no history of mental illness end up developing symptoms while in prison. In 2006, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that a quarter of state prisoners had a history of mental illness, whereas 3 in 10 state prisoners had developed symptoms of mental illness since becoming incarcerated with no recent history of mental illness. [127]

According to Human Rights Watch, one of the contributing factors to the disproportionate rates of mental illness in prisons and jails is the increased use of solitary confinement, for which "socially and psychologically meaningful contact is reduced to the absolute minimum, to a point that is insufficient for most detainees to remain mentally well functioning". [128] Another factor to be considered is that most inmates do not get the mental health services that they need while incarcerated. Due to limited funding, prisons are not able to provide a full range of mental health services and thus are typically limited to inconsistent administration of psychotropic medication, or no psychiatric services at all. [125] [128] Human Rights Watch also reports that corrections officers routinely use excessive violence against mentally ill inmates for nonthreatening behaviors related to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Inmates are often shocked, shackled and pepper sprayed. [129]

Although many argue that prisons have become the facilities for the mentally ill, very few crimes point directly to symptoms of mental illness as their sole cause. [128] [130] Despite the disproportionate representation of mentally ill persons in prison, a study by American Psychological Association indicates that only 7.5 percent of crimes committed were found to be directly related to mental illness. [130] However, some advocates argue that many incarcerations of mentally ill persons could have been avoided if they had been given proper treatment, [123] [124] [131] which would be a much less costly alternative to incarceration. [123]

Mental illness rarely stands alone when analyzing the risk factors associated with incarceration and recidivism rates. [127] [130] The American Psychological Association recommends a holistic approach to reducing recidivism rates among offenders by providing "cognitive–behavioral treatment focused on criminal cognition" or "services that target variable risk factors for high-risk offenders" due to the numerous intersecting risk factors experienced by mentally ill and non-mentally ill offenders alike. [130]

To prevent the recidivism of individuals with mental illness, a variety of programs are in place that are based on criminal justice or mental health intervention models. Programs modeled after criminal justice strategies include diversion programs, mental health courts, specialty mental health probation or parole, and jail aftercare/prison re-entry. Programs modeled after mental health interventions include forensic assertive community treatment and forensic intensive case management. It has been argued that the wide diversity of these program interventions points to a lack of clarity on which specific program components are most effective in reducing recidivism rates among individuals with mental illness. [126]

Students Edit

The term "school-to-prison-pipeline", also known as the "schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track", is a concept that was named in the 1980s. [132] The school-to-prison pipeline is the idea that a school's harsh punishments—which typically push students out of the classroom—lead to the criminalization of students' misbehaviors and result in increasing a student's probability of entering the prison system. [133] Although the school-to-prison pipeline is aggravated by a combination of ingredients, zero-tolerance policies are viewed as main contributors. [134] Additionally, "The School to Prison Pipeline disproportionately impacts the poor, students with disabilities, and youth of color, especially African Americans, who are suspended and expelled at the highest rates, despite comparable rates of infraction. [132]

In 1994, the Gun-Free Schools Act was passed. It required that students have at least a year long suspension from school if they brought a weapon to school. Many states then adopted the Zero tolerance policy which lead to an increase in suspensions, mainly for Black and Hispanic kids.

At the same time these policies were growing, school districts adopted their own version of the “broken windows theory”. The broken windows theory emphasizes the importance of cracking down on small offenses in order to make residents feel safer and discourage more serious crime. For schools, this meant more suspensions for small offenses like talking back to teachers, skipping class, or being disobedient or disruptive. This lead to schools having police officers in schools, which in turn lead to students being arrested and handled more harshly.

Zero-tolerance policies are regulations that mandate specific consequences in response to outlined student misbehavior, typically without any consideration for the unique circumstances surrounding a given incident. [135] Zero-tolerance policies both implicitly and explicitly usher the student into the prison track. Implicitly, when a student is extracted from the classroom, the more likely that student is to drop out of school as a result of being in class less. As a dropout, that child is then ill-prepared to obtain a job and become a fruitful citizen. [136] Explicitly, schools sometimes do not funnel their pupils to the prison systems inadvertently rather, they send them directly. [137] Once in juvenile court, even sympathetic judges are not likely to evaluate whether the school's punishment was warranted or fair. For these reasons, it is argued that zero-tolerance policies lead to an exponential increase in the juvenile prison populations. [138]

The national suspension rate doubled from 3.7% to 7.4% from 1973 to 2010. [139] The claim that Zero Tolerance Policies affect students of color at a disproportionate rate is supported in the Code of Maryland Regulations study, that found black students were suspended at more than double the rate of white students. [140] This data is further backed by Moriah Balingit, who states that when compared to white students, black students are suspended and expelled at greater rates according to the Civil Rights Data Collection, that has records with specific information for the 2015–2016 school year of about 96,000 schools. [141] In addition, further data shows that although black students only accounted for 15% of the student population, they represented a 31% of the arrests. [141] Hispanic children share this in common with their black counterparts, as they too are more susceptible to harsher discipline like suspension and expulsion. [142] This trend can be seen throughout numerous studies of this type of material and particularly in the south. [143] [144] Furthermore, between 1985 and 1989, there was an increase in referrals of minority youth to juvenile court, petitioned cases, adjudicated delinquency cases, and delinquency cases placed outside the home. [145] During this time period, the number of African American youth detained increased by 9% and the number of Hispanic youths detained increased by 4%, yet the proportion of White youth declined by 13%. [144] Documentation of this phenomenon can be seen as early as 1975 with the book School Suspensions: Are they helping children? [146] Additionally, as punitive action leads to dropout rates, so does imprisonment. Data shows in the year 2000, one in three black male students ages 20–40 who did not complete high school were incarcerated. [147] Moreover, about 70% of those in state prison have not finished high school. [147] Lastly, if one is a black male living post-Civil Rights Movement with no high school diploma, there is a 60% chance that they will be incarcerated in their lifetime. [147]

Transfer treaty Edit

The BOP receives all prisoner transfer treaty inmates sent from foreign countries, even if their crimes would have been, if committed in the United States, tried in state, DC, or territorial courts. [148] Non-US citizens incarcerated in federal and state prisons are eligible to be transferred to their home countries if they qualify. [149]

Security levels Edit

In some, but not all, states' department of corrections, inmates reside in different facilities that vary by security level, especially in security measures, administration of inmates, type of housing, and weapons and tactics used by corrections officers. The federal government's Bureau of Prisons uses a numbered scale from one to five to represent the security level. Level five is the most secure, while level one is the least. State prison systems operate similar systems. California, for example, classifies its facilities from Reception Center through Levels I to V (minimum to maximum security) to specialized high security units (all considered Level V) including Security Housing Unit (SHU)—California's version of supermax—and related units. As a general rule, county jails, detention centers, and reception centers, where new commitments are first held while either awaiting trial or before being transferred to "mainline" institutions to serve out their sentences, operate at a relatively high level of security, usually close security or higher.

Supermax prison facilities provide the highest level of prison security. These units hold those considered the most dangerous inmates, as well as inmates that have been deemed too high-profile or too great a national security risk for a normal prison. These include inmates who have committed assaults, murders, or other serious violations in less secure facilities, and inmates known to be or accused of being prison gang members. Most states have either a supermax section of a prison facility or an entire prison facility designated as a supermax. The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons operates a federal supermax, A.D.X. Florence, located in Florence, Colorado, also known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" and widely considered to be perhaps the most secure prison in the United States. A.D.X. Florence has a standard supermax section where assaultive, violent, and gang-related inmates are kept under normal supermax conditions of 23-hour confinement and abridged amenities. A.D.X. Florence is considered to be of a security level above that of all other prisons in the United States, at least in the "ideological" ultramax part of it, which features permanent, 24-hour solitary confinement with rare human contacts or opportunity to earn better conditions through good behavior.

In a maximum security prison or area (called high security in the federal system), all prisoners have individual cells [150] with sliding doors controlled from a secure remote control station. Prisoners are allowed out of their cells one out of twenty four hours (one hour and 30 minutes for prisoners in California). When out of their cells, prisoners remain in the cell block or an exterior cage. Movement out of the cell block or "pod" is tightly restricted using restraints and escorts by correctional officers.

Under close security, prisoners usually have one- or two-person cells operated from a remote control station. Each cell has its own toilet and sink. Inmates may leave their cells for work assignments or correctional programs and otherwise may be allowed in a common area in the cellblock or an exercise yard. The fences are generally double fences with watchtowers housing armed guards, plus often a third, lethal-current electric fence in the middle.

Prisoners that fall into the medium security group may sleep in cells, but share them two and two, and use bunk beds [150] with lockers to store their possessions. Depending upon the facility, each cell may have showers, toilets and sinks. Cells are locked at night with one or more correctional officers supervising. There is less supervision over the internal movements of prisoners. The perimeter is generally double fenced and regularly patrolled.

Prisoners in minimum security facilities are considered to pose little physical risk to the public and are mainly non-violent "white collar criminals". Minimum security prisoners live in less-secure dormitories, [150] which are regularly patrolled by correctional officers. As in medium security facilities, they have communal showers, toilets, and sinks. A minimum-security facility generally has a single fence that is watched, but not patrolled, by armed guards. At facilities in very remote and rural areas, there may be no fence at all. Prisoners may often work on community projects, such as roadside litter cleanup with the state department of transportation or wilderness conservation. Many minimum security facilities are small camps located in or near military bases, larger prisons (outside the security perimeter) or other government institutions to provide a convenient supply of convict labor to the institution. Many states allow persons in minimum-security facilities access to the Internet.

Correspondence Edit

Inmates who maintain contact with family and friends in the outside world are less likely to be convicted of further crimes and usually have an easier reintegration period back into society. [152] Inmates benefit from corresponding with friends and family members, especially when in-person visits are infrequent. [153] However, guidelines exist as to what constitutes acceptable mail, and these policies are strictly enforced.

Mail sent to inmates in violation of prison policies can result in sanctions such as loss of imprisonment time reduced for good behavior. Most Department of Corrections websites provide detailed information regarding mail policies. These rules can even vary within a single prison depending on which part of the prison an inmate is housed. For example, death row and maximum security inmates are usually under stricter mail guidelines for security reasons.

There have been several notable challenges to prison corresponding services. The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) stated that effective June 1, 2007, inmates would be prohibited from using pen pal websites, citing concerns that inmates were using them to solicit money and defraud the public. [154] Service providers such as, together with the ACLU, plan to challenge the ban in Federal Court. [ needs update ] Similar bans on an inmate's rights or a website's right to post such information has been ruled unconstitutional in other courts, citing First Amendment freedoms. [155] Some faith-based initiatives promote the positive effects of correspondence on inmates, and some have made efforts to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society through job placement assistance. [156] Inmates' ability to mail letters to other inmates has been limited by the courts. [157]

Conditions Edit

The non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch claims that prisoners and detainees face "abusive, degrading and dangerous" conditions within local, state and federal facilities, including those operated by for-profit contractors. [159] The organization also raised concerns with prisoner rape and medical care for inmates. [160] In a survey of 1,788 male inmates in Midwestern prisons by Prison Journal, about 21% responded they had been coerced or pressured into sexual activity during their incarceration, and 7% that they had been raped in their current facility. [161]

In August 2003, a Harper's article by Wil S. Hylton estimated that "somewhere between 20 and 40% of American prisoners are, at this very moment, infected with hepatitis C". [162] Prisons may outsource medical care to private companies such as Correctional Medical Services (now Corizon) that, according to Hylton's research, try to minimize the amount of care given to prisoners in order to maximize profits. [162] [163] After the privatization of healthcare in Arizona's prisons, medical spending fell by 30 million dollars and staffing was greatly reduced. Some 50 prisoners died in custody in the first 8 months of 2013, compared to 37 for the preceding two years combined. [164]

The poor quality of food provided to inmates has become an issue, as over the last decade corrections officials looking to cut costs have been outsourcing food services to private, for-profit corporations such as Aramark, A'Viands Food & Services Management, and ABL Management. [165] A prison riot in Kentucky has been blamed on the low quality of food Aramark provided to inmates. [166] A 2017 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that because of lapses in food safety, prison inmates are 6.4 times more likely to contract a food-related illness than the general population. [167]

Also identified as an issue within the prison system is gang violence, because many gang members retain their gang identity and affiliations when imprisoned. Segregation of identified gang members from the general population of inmates, with different gangs being housed in separate units often results in the imprisonment of these gang members with their friends and criminal cohorts. Some feel this has the effect of turning prisons into "institutions of higher criminal learning." [168]

Many prisons in the United States are overcrowded. For example, California's 33 prisons have a total capacity of 100,000, but they hold 170,000 inmates. [169] Many prisons in California and around the country are forced to turn old gymnasiums and classrooms into huge bunkhouses for inmates. They do this by placing hundreds of bunk beds next to one another, in these gyms, without any type of barriers to keep inmates separated. In California, the inadequate security engendered by this situation, coupled with insufficient staffing levels, have led to increased violence and a prison health system that causes one death a week. This situation has led the courts to order California to release 27% of the current prison population, citing the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. [170] The three-judge court considering requests by the Plata v. Schwarzenegger and Coleman v. Schwarzenegger courts found California's prisons have become criminogenic as a result of prison overcrowding. [171]

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court case of Cutter v. Wilkinson established that prisons that received federal funds could not deny prisoners accommodations necessary for religious practices.

According to a Supreme Court ruling issued on May 23, 2011, California — which has the highest overcrowding rate of any prison system in the country — must alleviate overcrowding in the state's prisons, reducing the prisoner population by 30,000 over the next two years. [172] [173] [174] [175]

Solitary confinement is widely used in US prisons, yet it is underreported by most states, while some don't report it at all. Isolation of prisoners has been condemned by the UN in 2011 as a form of torture. At over 80,000 at any given time, the US has more prisoners confined in isolation than any other country in the world. In Louisiana, with 843 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, there have been prisoners, such as the Angola Three, held for as long as forty years in isolation. [176] [177]

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Norway refused to extradite American hashish-smuggler Henry Hendricksen, as they declared that US prisons do not meet their minimum humanitarian standards. [178]

In 2011, some 885 people died while being held in local jails (not in prisons after being convicted of a crime and sentenced) throughout the United States. [179] According to federal statistics, roughly 4,400 inmates die in US prisons and jails annually, excluding executions. [180]

As of September 2013, condoms for prisoners are only available in the U.S. State of Vermont (on September 17, 2013, the California Senate approved a bill for condom distribution inside the state's prisons, but the bill was not yet law at the time of approval) [181] and in county jails in San Francisco. [182]

In September 2016, a group of corrections officers at Holman Correctional Facility have gone on strike over safety concerns and overcrowding. Prisoners refer to the facility as a "slaughterhouse" as stabbings are a routine occurrence. [183]

During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requested health data from 54 state and territorial health department jurisdictions. 32 (86%) of 37 jurisdictions that responded reported at least one confirmed COVID-19 case among inmates or staff members. As of April 21, 2020, there were 4,893 cases and 88 deaths among inmates and 2,778 cases and 15 deaths among staff members. [184]

Privatization Edit

Prior to the 1980s, private prisons did not exist in the U.S. During the 1980s, as a result of the War on Drugs by the Reagan Administration, the number of people incarcerated rose. This created a demand for more prison space. The result was the development of privatization and the for-profit prison industry. [185] [186] [187]

The prison-industrial complex (PIC) refers to the use of prison in addressing economic, political, and social issues the PIC benefits heavily those who maintain ethos and power through racial and other privileges. The prison-industrial complex is a term that identifies a network of institutions that extend outward toward the political economy and loops back to the mandatory minimum sentences for possession of small quantities of illegal substances implemented by jails and prisons. Private prisons profit from contractual agreements with a government agency that pays them a monthly rate either for each prisoner or for each space available. The mass incarceration of African-Americans during the era of the “War on Drugs” plays less to the detriments of drug abuse and plays more to the accumulation of income in the pockets of the rich by merely incriminating black people in large quantities for possession of drugs found mostly in impoverished neighborhoods. By implementing mandatory minimum sentences for these offenses, private interest is maintained while the black community is left devastated.While the pockets of the rich broaden, the lives of prison inmates -- and African-American families nationwide -- are left to suffer as a result of private interest. This cycle has affected many in the African-American community. [188]

A 1998 study was performed using three comparable Louisiana medium security prisons, two of which were privately run by different corporations and one of which was publicly run. The data from this study suggested that the privately run prisons operated more cost-effectively without sacrificing the safety of inmates and staff. The study concluded that both privately run prisons had a lower cost per inmate, a lower rate of critical incidents, a safer environment for employees and inmates, and a higher proportional rate of inmates who completed basic education, literacy, and vocational training courses. However, the publicly run prison outperformed the privately run prisons in areas such as experiencing fewer escape attempts, controlling substance abuse through testing, offering a wider range of educational and vocational courses, and providing a broader range of treatment, recreation, social services, and rehabilitative services. [189]

According to Marie Gottschalk, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, studies that claim private prisons are cheaper to run than public prisons fail to "take into account the fundamental differences between private and public facilities," and that the prison industry "engages in a lot of cherry-picking and cost-shifting to maintain the illusion that the private sector does it better for less." [190] The American Civil Liberties Union reported in 2013 that numerous studies indicate private jails are actually filthier, more violent, less accountable, and possibly more costly than their public counterparts. The ACLU stated that the for-profit prison industry is "a major contributor to bloated state budgets and mass incarceration – not a part of any viable solution to these urgent problems." [191] The primary reason Louisiana is the prison capital of the world is because of the for-profit prison industry. [192] According to The Times-Picayune, "a majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt." [192]

In Mississippi, a 2013 Bloomberg report stated that assault rates in private facilities were three times higher on average than in their public counterparts. In 2012, the for-profit Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility was the most violent prison in the state with 27 assaults per 100 offenders. [193] A federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at the privately run East Mississippi Correctional Facility in 2013 claims the conditions there are "hyper-violent," "barbaric" and "chaotic," with gangs routinely beating and exploiting mentally ill inmates who are denied medical care by prison staff. [194] [195] A May 2012 riot in the Corrections Corporation of America-run Adams County Correctional Facility, also in Mississippi, left one corrections officer dead and dozens injured. Similar riots have occurred in privatized facilities in Idaho, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Florida, California and Texas. [196] [197] [198]

Sociologist John L. Campbell of Dartmouth College claims that private prisons in the U.S. have become "a lucrative business." [199] Between 1990 and 2000, the number of private facilities grew from five to 100, operated by nearly 20 private firms. Over the same time period the stock price of the industry leader, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which rebranded as CoreCivic in 2016 amid increased scrutiny of the private prison industry, [200] climbed from $8 a share to $30. [199] According to journalist Matt Taibbi, major investors in the prison industry include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, General Electric and The Vanguard Group. [201] The aforementioned Bloomberg report also notes that in the past decade the number of inmates in for-profit prisons throughout the U.S. rose 44 percent. [193]

Controversy has surrounded the privatization of prisons with the exposure of the genesis of the landmark Arizona SB 1070 law. This law was written by Arizona State Congressman Russell Pearce and the CCA at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. [202] [203] Both CCA and GEO Group, the two largest operators of private facilities, have been contributors to ALEC, which lobbies for policies that would increase incarceration, such as three-strike laws and "truth-in-sentencing" legislation. [204] [205] [206] [207] [208] In fact, in the early 1990s, when CCA was co-chair of ALEC, it co-sponsored (with the National Rifle Association) the so-called "truth-in-sentencing" and "three-strikes-you're-out" laws. [209] Truth-in-sentencing called for all violent offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release three strikes called for mandatory life imprisonment for a third felony conviction. Some prison officers unions in publicly run facilities such as California Correctional Peace Officers Association have, in the past, also supported measures such as three-strike laws. Such laws increased the prison population. [210] [211]

In addition to CCA and GEO Group, companies operating in the private prison business include Management and Training Corporation, and Community Education Centers. The GEO Group was formerly known as the Wackenhut Corrections division. It includes the former Correctional Services Corporation and Cornell Companies, which were purchased by GEO in 2005 and 2010. Such companies often sign contracts with states obliging them to fill prison beds or reimburse them for those that go unused. [212]

Private companies which provide services to prisons combine in the American Correctional Association, a 501(c)3 which advocates legislation favorable to the industry. Such private companies comprise what has been termed the prison–industrial complex. [186] [213] [214] [215] An example of this phenomenon would be the Kids for cash scandal, in which two judges in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, were receiving judicial kickbacks for sending youths, convicted of minor crimes, [216] to a privatized, for-profit juvenile facility run by the Mid Atlantic Youth Service Corporation. [206]

The industry is aware of what reduced crime rates could mean to their bottom line. This from the CCA's SEC report in 2010:

Our growth … depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates …[R]eductions in crime rates … could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. [191]

Marie Gottschalk claims that while private prison companies and other economic interests were not the primary drivers of mass incarceration originally, they do much to sustain it today. [217] The private prison industry has successfully lobbied for changes that increase the profit of their employers. They have opposed measures that would bring reduced sentencing or shorter prison terms. [218] [219] The private prison industry has been accused of being at least partly responsible for America's high rates of incarceration. [220]

According to The Corrections Yearbook, 2000, the average annual starting salary for public corrections officers was $23,002, compared to $17,628 for private prison guards. The poor pay is a likely factor in the high turnover rate in private prisons, at 52.2 percent compared to 16 percent in public facilities. [221]

In September 2015, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the "Justice Is Not for Sale" Act, [222] which would prohibit the United States government at federal, state and local levels from contracting with private firms to provide and/or operate detention facilities within two years. [223]

An August 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Justice asserts that privately operated federal facilities are less safe, less secure and more punitive than other federal prisons. [224] Shortly after this report was published, the DoJ announced it will stop using private prisons. [225] On February 23, the DOJ under Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the ban on using private prisons. According to Sessions, "the (Obama administration) memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system. Therefore, I direct the bureau to return to its previous approach." [226] The private prison industry has been booming under the Trump Administration. [227] [228] [229]

Additionally, both CCA and GEO Group have been expanding into the immigrant detention market. Although the combined revenues of CCA and GEO Group were about $4 billion in 2017 from private prison contracts, their number one customer was ICE. [230]

Labor Edit

About 18% of eligible prisoners held in federal prisons are employed by UNICOR and are paid less than $1.25 an hour. [231] [232] [233] Prisons have gradually become a source of low-wage labor for corporations seeking to outsource work to inmates. [199] Corporations that utilize prison labor include Walmart, Eddie Bauer, Victoria's Secret, Microsoft, Starbucks, McDonald's, Nintendo, Chevron Corporation, Bank of America, Koch Industries, Boeing and Costco Wholesale. [234] [235] [236] [237]

It is estimated that 1 in 9 state government employees works in corrections. [76] As the overall U.S. prison population declined in 2010, states are closing prisons. For instance, Virginia has removed 11 prisons since 2009. Like other small towns, Boydton in Virginia has to contend with unemployment woes resulting from the closure of the Mecklenburg Correctional Center. [238]

In 2010, Prisoners in Georgia engaged in the 2010 Georgia prison strike to garner more rights.

In September 2016, large, coordinated prison strikes took place in 11 states, with inmates claiming they are subjected to poor sanitary conditions and jobs that amount to forced labor and modern day slavery. [239] [240] [241] [242] Organizers, which include the Industrial Workers of the World labor union, assert it is the largest prison strike in U.S. history. [239]

Starting August 21, 2018, another prison strike, sponsored by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, took place in 17 states from coast to coast to protest what inmates regard as unfair treatment by the criminal justice system. In particular, inmates objected to being excluded from the 13th amendment which forces them to work for pennies a day, a condition they assert is tantamount to "modern-day slavery." The strike was the result of a call to action after a deadly riot occurred at Lee Correctional Institution in April of that year, which was sparked by neglect and inhumane living conditions. [243] [244] [245] [246] [247]

Cost Edit

Judicial, police, and corrections costs totaled $212 billion in 2011 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. [250] In 2007, around $74 billion was spent on corrections according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. [248] [249] Despite federal statistics including statements made by former Attorney General Eric Holder, according to research on corrections expenditure published in the ▲Church white paper "On Security," Federal Prisons and Detention FY15 Requested Budget was just $8.5 billion. [251] Federal Bureau of Prisons' spending was $6.9 billion counting 20,911 correctional officers of 43,297 positions. [252] Total U.S. States' and Federal Prisons and Detention including county jail subsidies was only $56.9 billion. Adding local jails' spending, $64.9 billion was spent on corrections in nominal 2014 dollars. [253]

In 2014, among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the average cost of incarceration for federal inmates in fiscal year 2014 was $30,619.85. The average annual cost to confine an inmate in a residential re-entry center was $28,999.25. [254]

State prisons averaged $31,286 per inmate in 2010 according to a Vera Institute of Justice study. It ranged from $14,603 in Kentucky to $60,076 in New York. [255]

In California in 2008, it cost the state an average of $47,102 a year to incarcerate an inmate in a state prison. From 2001 to 2009, the average annual cost increased by about $19,500. [256]

Housing the approximately 500,000 people in jail in the US awaiting trial who cannot afford bail costs $9 billion a year. [257] Most jail inmates are petty, nonviolent offenders. Twenty years ago most nonviolent defendants were released on their own recognizance (trusted to show up at trial). Now most are given bail, and most pay a bail bondsman to afford it. [258] 62% of local jail inmates are awaiting trial. [259]

Bondsmen have lobbied to cut back local pretrial programs from Texas to California, pushed for legislation in four states limiting pretrial's resources, and lobbied Congress so that they won't have to pay the bond if the defendant commits a new crime. Behind them, the bondsmen have powerful special interest group and millions of dollars. Pretrial release agencies have a smattering of public employees and the remnants of their once-thriving programs.

To ease jail overcrowding over 10 counties every year consider building new jails. As an example Lubbock County, Texas has decided to build a $110 million megajail to ease jail overcrowding. Jail costs an average of $60 a day nationally. [258] [261] In Broward County, Florida supervised pretrial release costs about $7 a day per person while jail costs $115 a day. The jail system costs a quarter of every county tax dollar in Broward County, and is the single largest expense to the county taxpayer. [260]

The National Association of State Budget Officers reports: "In fiscal 2009, corrections spending represented 3.4 percent of total state spending and 7.2 percent of general fund spending." They also report: "Some states exclude certain items when reporting corrections expenditures. Twenty-one states wholly or partially excluded juvenile delinquency counseling from their corrections figures and fifteen states wholly or partially excluded spending on juvenile institutions. Seventeen states wholly or partially excluded spending on drug abuse rehabilitation centers and forty-one states wholly or partially excluded spending on institutions for the criminally insane. Twenty-two states wholly or partially excluded aid to local governments for jails. For details, see Table 36." [262]

As of 2007 [update] , the cost of medical care for inmates was growing by 10 percent annually. [263] [76]

According to a 2016 study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the true cost of incarceration exceeds $1 trillion, with half of that falling on the families, children and communities of those incarcerated. [264]

According to a 2016 analysis of federal data by the U.S. Education Department, state and local spending on incarceration has grown three times as much as spending on public education since 1980. [265]

Crime Edit

Three articles written in the early 2000s claim that increasing incarceration has a negative effect on crime, but this effect becomes smaller as the incarceration rate increases. [267] [268] Higher rates of prison admissions increase crime rates, whereas moderate rates of prison admissions decrease crime. The rate of prisoner releases in a given year in a community is also positively related to that community's crime rate the following year. [269]

A 2010 study of panel data from 1978 to 2003 indicated that the crime-reducing effects of increasing incarceration are totally offset by the crime-increasing effects of prisoner re-entry. [270]

According to a 2015 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, falling crime rates cannot be ascribed to mass incarceration. [271]

Society Edit

Within three years of being released, 67% of ex-prisoners are re-arrested, and 52% are re-incarcerated, according to a study based on 1994 data. [272] [60] The rate of recidivism is so high in the United States that most inmates who enter the system are likely to reenter within a year of their release. [ according to whom? ] [ citation needed ] Former inmate Wenona Thompson argues "I realized that I became part of a cycle, a system, that looked forward to seeing me there. And I was aware that. I would be one of those people who fill up their prisons". [273]

In 1995, the government allocated $5.1 billion for new prison space. Every $100 million spent in construction costs $53 million per year in finance and operational costs over the next three decades. [274] Taxpayers spend $60 billion a year for prisons. In 2005, it cost an average of $23,876 a year to house a prisoner. [275] It takes about $30,000 per year per person to provide drug rehabilitation treatment to inmates. By contrast, the cost of drug rehabilitation treatment outside of a prison costs about $8,000 per year per person. [273]

The effects of such high incarceration rates are also shown in other ways. Many people convicted of felonies lose their right to vote either temporarily or, in some cases, permanently. Currently, over 6 million Americans are disenfranchised for this reason. [276] In addition, people who have been recently released from prison are ineligible for welfare in most states. They are not eligible for subsidized housing, and for Section 8 they have to wait two years before they can apply. In addition to finding housing, they also have to find employment, but this can be difficult as employers often check for a potential employees criminal record. [277] Essentially, a person who has been recently released from prison comes into a society that is not prepared structurally or emotionally to welcome them back. [273]

In The New Jim Crow in 2011, legal scholar and advocate Michelle Alexander contended that the U.S. incarceration system worked to bar Black men from voting. She wrote "there are more African Americans under correctional control – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began". [278] Alexander's work has drawn increased attention in the years since.

Yale Law Professor, and opponent of mass incarceration James Forman Jr. has countered that 1) African Americans, as represented by such cities as the District of Columbia, have generally supported tough on crime policies. 2) There appears to be a connection between drugs and violent crimes, the discussion of which, he says, New Jim Crow theorists have avoided. 3) New theorists have overlooked class as a factor in incarceration. Black people with advanced degrees have fewer convictions. Black people without advanced education have more. [279]

Family Edit

Incarceration of an individual does not have a singular effect: it affects those in the individual's tight-knit circle as well. For every mother that is incarcerated in the United States there are about another ten people (children, grandparents, community, etc.) that are directly affected. [280] [281] Moreover, more than 2.7 million children in the United States have an incarcerated parent. [282] That translates to one out of every 27 children in the United States having an incarcerated parent. [283] Approximately 80 percent of women who go to jail each year are mothers. [284] This ripple effect on the individual's family amplifies the debilitating effect that entails arresting individuals. Given the general vulnerability and naivete of children, it is important to understand how such a traumatic event adversely affects children. The effects of a parent's incarceration on their children have been found as early as three years old. [285] Local and state governments in the United States have recognized these harmful effects and have attempted to address them through public policy solutions.

Health and behavior Edit

The effects of an early traumatic experience of a child can be categorized into health effects and behavioral externalizations. Many studies have searched for a correlation between witnessing a parent's arrest and a wide variety of physiological issues. For example, Lee et al. showed significant correlation between high cholesterol, Migraine, and HIV/AIDS diagnosis to children with a parental incarceration. [286] Even while adjusting for various socioeconomic and racial factors, children with an incarcerated parent have a significantly higher chance of developing a wide variety of physical problems such as Obesity, asthma, and developmental delays. [287] The current literature acknowledges that there are a variety of poor health outcomes as a direct result of being separated from a parent by law enforcement. [288] It is hypothesized that the chronic stress that results directly from the uncertainty of the parent's legal status is the primary influence for the extensive list of acute and chronic conditions that could develop later in life. [289] In addition to the chronic stress, the immediate instability in a child's life deprives them of certain essentials e.g. money for food, parental love that are compulsory for leading a healthy life. Though most of the adverse effects that result from parental incarceration are regardless of whether the mother or father was arrested, some differences have been discovered. For example, males whose father have been incarcerated display more behavioral issues than any other combination of parent/child. [285]

There has also been a substantial effort to understand how this traumatic experience manifests in the child's mental health and to identify externalizations that may be helpful for a diagnosis. The most prominent mental health outcomes in these children are Anxiety disorder, Depression (mood), and Posttraumatic stress disorder(PTSD). [290] [291] These problems worsen in a typical positive feedback loop without the presence of a parental figure. Given the chronic nature of these diseases, they can be detected and observed at distinct points in a child's development, allowing for ample research. Murray et al. have been able to isolate the cause of the expression of Anti-social behaviours specific to the parental incarceration. [292] In a specific case study in Boston by Sack, within two months of the father being arrested, the adolescent boy in the family developed severe aggressive and antisocial behaviors. [293] This observation is not unique Sack and other researchers have noticed an immediate and strong reaction to sudden departures from family structure norms. These behavioral externalizations are most evident at school when the child interacts with peers and adults. This behavior leads to punishment and less focus on education, which has obvious consequences for future educational and career prospects. [294]

In addition to externalizing undesirable behaviors, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to be incarcerated compared to those without incarcerated parents. [295] More formally, transmission of severe emotional strain on a parent negatively impacts the children by disrupting the home environment. Societal stigma against individuals, specifically parents, who are incarcerated is passed down to their children. The children find this stigma to be overwhelming and it negatively impacts their short- and long-term prospects. [296]

Policy solutions Edit

There are four main phases that can be distinguished in the process of arresting a parent: arrest, sentencing, incarceration, and re-entry. Re-entry is not relevant if a parent is not arrested for other crimes. During each of these phases, solutions can be implemented that mitigate the harm placed on the children during the process. While their parents are away, children rely on other caretakers (family or friends) to satisfy their basic need. Solutions for the children of incarcerated parents have identified caretakers as a focal point for successful intervention.

Arrest phase Edit

One in five children witness their parent arrested by authorities, and a study interviewing 30 children reported that the children experienced flashbulb memories and nightmares associated with the day their parent was arrested. [297] These single, adverse moments have long-reaching effects and policymakers around the country have attempted to ameliorate the situation. For example, the city of San Francisco in 2005 implemented training policies for its police officers with the goal of making them more cognizant of the familial situation before entering the home. The guidelines go a step further and stipulate that if no information is available before the arrest, that officers ask the suspect about the possibility of any children in the house. [298] San Francisco is not alone: New Mexico passed a law in 2009 advocating for child safety during parental arrest and California provides funding to agencies to train personnel how to appropriately conduct an arrest in the presence of family members. [299] Extending past the state level, the Department of Justice has provided guidelines for police officers around the country to better accommodate for children in difficult family situations. [300]

Sentencing phase Edit

During the sentencing phase, the judge is the primary authority in determining the appropriate punishment. Consideration of the sentencing effects on the defendant's children could help with the preservation of the parent-child relationship. A law passed in Oklahoma in 2014 requires judges to inquire if convicted individuals are single custodial parents, and if so, to authorize the mobility of important resources so the child's transition to different circumstances is monitored. [301] The distance that the jail or prison is from the arrested individual's home is a contributing factor to the parent-child relationship. Allowing a parent to serve their sentence closer to their residence allows for easier visitation and a healthier relationship. Recognizing this, the New York Senate passed a bill in 2015 that would ensure convicted individuals be jailed in the nearest facility.

In 1771, Baron Auckland wrote in Principles of Penal Law that: “Imprisonment, inflicted by law as a punishment, is not according to the principles of wise legislation. It sinks useful subjects into burdens on the community, and has always a bad effect on their morals: nor can it communicate the benefit of example, being in its nature secluded from the eye of the people.” [302] Nothing has changed in about 250 years, strongly suggesting society employ alternatives to incarceration. Alternative community sentences could reduce incarceration levels at the city, state and federal levels. Instead of sending those convicted of crimes to jail or prison, or back to prison in the cases of parole violators, laws could be passed to impose the old-fashioned fast and inexpensive punishments of the stocks, pillory and public judicial corporal punishment. [303] These punishments within biblical limits (Deuteronomy 25:1–3) are preferred by convicts who despise incarceration, even though members of the elite are horrified by them. [304] All the presidents carved into Mt. Rushmore favored public judicial corporal punishment, which (unlike incarceration) has never been held unconstitutional in the United States. [303]

Incarceration phase Edit

While serving a sentence, measures have been put in place to allow parents to exercise their duty as role models and caretakers. The state of New York (state) allows newborns to be with their mothers for up to one year. [305] Studies have shown that parental, specifically maternal, presence during a newborn's early development are crucial to both physical and cognitive development. [306] Ohio law requires nursery support for pregnant inmates in its facilities. [307] California also has a stake in the support of incarcerated parents, too, through its requirement that women in jail with children be transferred to a community facility that can provide pediatric care. [308] These regulations are supported by the research on early child development that argue it is imperative that infants and young children are with a parental figure, preferably the mother, to ensure proper development. [309] This approach received support at the federal level when then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates instituted several family-friendly measures, for certain facilities, including: improving infrastructure for video conferencing and informing inmates on how to contact their children if they were placed in the foster care system, among other improvements. [310]

Re-entry phase Edit

The last phase of the incarceration process is re-entry back into the community, but more importantly, back into the family structure. Though the time away is painful for the family, it does not always welcome back the previously incarcerated individual with open arms. [311] Not only is the transition into the family difficult, but also into society as they are faced with establishing secure housing, insurance, and a new job. [312] As such, policymakers find it necessary to ease the transition of an incarcerated individual to the pre-arrest situation. Of the four outlined phases, re-entry is the least emphasized from a public policy perspective. This is not to say it is the least important, however, as there are concerns that time in a correctional facility can deteriorate the caretaking ability of some prisoners. As a result, Oklahoma has taken measurable strides by providing parents with the tools they need to re-enter their families, including classes on parenting skills. [313]

Caretakers Edit

Though the effects on caregivers of these children vary based on factors such as the relationship to the prisoner and his or her support system, it is well known that it is a financial and emotional burden to take care of a child. [314] In addition to taking care of their nuclear family, caregivers are now responsible for another individual who requires attention and resources to flourish. Depending on the relationship to the caregiver, the transition to a new household may not be easy for the child. The rationale behind targeting caregivers for intervention policies is to ensure the new environment for the children is healthy and productive. The federal government funds states to provide counseling to caretaking family members to alleviate some of the associated emotional burden. A more comprehensive program from Washington (state) employs "kinship navigators" to address caretakers' needs with initiatives such as parental classes and connections to legal services. [315]

Employment Edit

Felony records greatly influence the chances of people finding employment. Many employers seem to use criminal history as a screening mechanism without attempting to probe deeper. [316] They are often more interested in incarceration as a measure of employability and trustworthiness instead of its relation to any specific job. [317] People who have felony records have a harder time finding a job. [318] The psychological effects of incarceration can also impede an ex-felon's search for employment. Prison can cause social anxiety, distrust, and other psychological issues that negatively affect a person's reintegration into an employment setting. [319] Men who are unemployed are more likely to participate in crime [318] which leads to there being a 67% chance of ex-felons being charged again. [317] In 2008, the difficulties male ex-felons in the United States had finding employment lead to approximately a 1.6% decrease in the employment rate alone. This is a loss of between $57 and $65 billion of output to the US economy. [320]

Although incarceration in general has a huge effect on employment, the effects become even more pronounced when looking at race. Devah Pager performed a study in 2003 and found that white males with no criminal record had a 34% chance of callback compared to 17% for white males with a criminal record. Black males with no criminal record were called back at a rate of 14% while the rate dropped to 5% for those with a criminal record. Black men with no criminal background have a harder time finding employment than white men who have a history of criminal activity. While having a criminal record decreases the chance of a callback for white men by 50%, it decreases the callback chances for Black men by 64%. [316]

While Pager's study is greatly informative, it does lack some valuable information. Pager only studied white and Black men, which leaves out women and people of other races. It also fails to account for the fact that applying for jobs has largely shifted from applying in person to applying over the Internet. A study done by Scott H. Decker, Cassia Spohn, Natalie R. Ortiz, and Eric Hedberg from Arizona State University in 2014 accounts for this missing information. This study was set up similarly to the Pager study, but with the addition of female job applicants, Hispanic job applicants, and online job applications. [321] Men and women of white, Black, and Hispanic ethnicities account for 92% of the US prison population. [322]

The results of Arizona State University study were somewhat different from Pager's study, but the main finding was expected: Incarceration decreased the chances of getting employed. For females submitting applications online and in-person, regardless of criminal history, white women received the most callbacks, roughly 40%. Hispanic women followed up with a 34% callback rate. Black women had the lowest rate at 27%. The effects of incarceration on female applicants in general were that females with a prison record were less likely to receive a callback compared to females without a prison record. The significant exceptions are white women applying in person and Hispanic women with a community college degree applying online [ clarification needed ] . [321]

For males submitting applications online and in-person, regardless of criminal history, Hispanic males received the most callbacks, roughly 38%. White males followed up with a 35% callback rate. Black males had the lowest rate at 27%. The effects of incarceration on male applicants applying in-person was that males with a prison record were less likely than males without a prison record to receive a callback. However, the effects of incarceration on male applicants applying online were nearly nonexistent. In fact, the study found that "there was no effect of race/ethnicity, prison record, or community college [education] on men's success in advancing through the [online] hiring process". The Arizona State University study also had results that contradicted Pager's study. It found that white males with a prison record did not have a higher callback rate than Black males (and Hispanic males) without a prison record. Hispanic men without a prison record had a 40% higher callback rate than white males with a prison record, and Black men without a prison record had a 6% higher callback rate than white men without a prison record. [321] Given that there is an 11-year gap between these studies, this discrepancy may be due to the social and demographic changes over time, rather than flaws in Pager's study.

Mass incarceration cannot be remedied in a short length of time, because each prisoner serves a separate sentence, the average length of sentences has risen over the last 35 years and public support for prison reform is still relatively low. Decriminalizing drugs has been suggested by libertarians and advocated for by socialists, but remains a remote political option. Additional parole and probation can be facilitated with enhanced electronic monitoring, though monitoring is expensive. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld prisoner releases to relieve California's unconstitutional prison conditions in Brown v. Plata, long-standing litigation wherein the federal courts intervened as they have done in most states through the years.

There is also the prison abolition movement which calls for the immediate elimination and reduction of both public and private prisons. Angela Davis is a popular advocate for the prison abolition movement and has outlined how organizations like G4S, the third largest private corporation just behind McDonald's and Foxconn, make a huge profit from privatized prisons across the globe. Socialists have been a major advocate for abolition of prisons and argues that capitalism has led to the creation of prisons as well as mass-incarceration by pointing to G4S which profits from locking up other people behind bars and segregating lands in other countries, as well as enforcing borders and deporting immigrants. Angela Davis explains many of these views and how to implement reforms based on rehabilitation over incarceration. [323]

There is greater indication that education in prison helps prevent reincarceration. [324] Many people inside prisons lack education. Dropout rates are seven times greater for children in impoverished areas than those who come from families of higher incomes. This is due to the fact that many children in poverty are more likely to have to work and care for family members. [325] People in prisons generally come from poverty creating a continuous cycle of poverty and incarceration. [326]

The sociologists John Clegg and Adaner Usmani assert that the massive carceral state established in the US is partly the result of anemic social policy. As such, resolving the issue will necessitate significant redistribution coming from economic elites. They add that mass incarceration is "not a technical problem for which there are smart, straightforward, but just not-yet-realized solutions. Rather, it is a political problem, the solution of which will require confronting the entrenched power of the wealthy. In this sense, the task before us is to build the capacities of poor and working-class Americans to win redress from their exploiters." [327]

Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.

High rates of incarceration may be due to sentence length, which is further driven by many other factors. [328] Shorter sentences may even diminish the criminal culture by possibly reducing re-arrest rates for first-time convicts. [329] The U.S. Congress has ordered federal judges to make imprisonment decisions "recognizing that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation." [330]

Critics have lambasted the United States for incarcerating a large number of non-violent and victimless offenders [331] [332] half of all persons incarcerated under state jurisdiction are for non-violent offenses, and 20% are incarcerated for drug offenses (in state prisons federal prison percentages are higher). [92] [333] "Human Rights Watch believes the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States wreaks havoc on individuals, families and communities, and saps the strength of the nation as a whole." [331] The population of inmates housed in prisons and jails in the United States exceeds 2 million, with the per capita incarceration population higher than that officially reported by any other country. [76] Criminal justice policy in the United States has also been criticized for a number of other reasons. [334] In the 2014 book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, journalist Matt Taibbi argues that the expanding disparity of wealth and the increasing criminalization of those in poverty have culminated in the U.S. having the largest prison population "in the history of human civilization." [335] The scholars Michael Meranze and Marie Gottschalk contend that the massive "carceral state" extends far beyond prisons, and distorts democracy, degrades society, and obstructs meaningful discourse on criminal punishment. [336] A December 2017 report by Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, asserted that the justice system throughout the U.S. is designed to keep people mired in poverty and to generate revenue to fund the justice system and other governmental programs. [337]

Some scholars have linked the ascent of neoliberal, free market ideology in the late 1970s to mass incarceration. [186] [199] [338] [339] [340] [341] Sociologist Loïc Wacquant postulates the expansive prison system has become a political institution designed to deal with an urban crisis created by welfare state retrenchment and economic deregulation, and that this "overgrown and intrusive penal state" is "deeply injurious to the ideals of democratic citizenship." [342] Academic and activist Angela Davis argues that prisons in the U.S. have "become venues of profit as well as punishment" as mass incarceration has increased, the prison system has become more about economic factors than criminality. [343] Professor of Law at Columbia University Bernard Harcourt contends that neoliberalism holds the state as incompetent when it comes to economic regulation but proficient at policing and punishing, and that this paradox has resulted in the expansion of penal confinement. [344] According to The Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States, "neoliberal social and economic policy has more deeply embedded the carceral state within the lives of the poor, transforming what it means to be poor in America." [5]

Another possibly cause for this increase of incarceration since the 1970s could be the "war on drugs," which started around that time. More elected prosecutors were favored by voters for promising to take more harsh approaches than their opponents, such as locking up more people. [345]

Our vast network of federal and state prisons, with some 2.3 million inmates, rivals the gulags of totalitarian states.

Reporting at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (August 3, 2008), Becky Pettit, associate professor of sociology from the University of Washington and Bryan Sykes, a UW post-doctoral researcher, revealed that the mammoth increase in the United States's prison population since the 1970s is having profound demographic consequences that affect 1 in 50 Americans. Drawing data from a variety of sources that looked at prison and general populations, the researchers found that the boom in prison population is hiding lowered rates of fertility and increased rates of involuntary migration to rural areas and morbidity that is marked by a greater exposure to and risk of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV or AIDS. [347]

Guilty plea bargains concluded 97% of all federal cases in 2011. [348]

As of December 2012 [update] , two state prison systems, Alabama and South Carolina, segregated prisoners based on their HIV status. On December 21, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson ruled in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of several inmates that Alabama's practice in doing so violated federal disabilities law. He noted the state's "outdated and unsupported assumptions about HIV and the prison system's ability to deal with HIV-positive prisoners." [349]

Department of Justice "Smart on Crime" Program Edit

On August 12, 2013, at the American Bar Association's House of Delegates meeting, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the "Smart on Crime" program, which is "a sweeping initiative by the Justice Department that in effect renounces several decades of tough-on-crime anti-drug legislation and policies." [350] [351] Holder said the program "will encourage U.S. attorneys to charge defendants only with crimes "for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins…" [350] [351] Running through Holder's statements, the increasing economic burden of over-incarceration was stressed. [350] [351] As of August 2013 [update] , the Smart on Crime program is not a legislative initiative but an effort "limited to the DOJ's policy parameters." [350] [351]

Strip searches and cavity searches Edit

The procedural use of strip searches and cavity searches in the prison system has raised human rights concerns. [352]

In relation to popular culture, mass incarceration has become a popular issue in the Hip-Hop community. Artists like Tupac Shakur, NWA, LL Cool J, and Kendrick Lamar have written songs and poems that condemn racial disparities in the criminal justice system, specifically the alleged practice of police officers targeting African Americans. By presenting the negative implications of mass incarceration in a way that is widespread throughout popular culture, rap music is more likely to impact younger generations than a book or scholarly article would. Hip hop accounts of mass incarceration are based on victim-based testimony and are effective in inspiring others to speak out against the corrupt criminal justice system. [353] The soul singer Raphael Saadiq's 2019 album, Jimmy Lee, thematizes racial disparities in mass incarceration as well as other societal and family issues affecting African Americans. [354]

In addition to references in popular music, mass incarceration has also played a role in modern film. For example, Ava DuVernay's Netflix film 13th, released in 2017, criticizes mass incarceration and compares it to the history of slavery throughout the United States, beginning with the provision of the 13th Amendment that allows for involuntary servitude "as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." The film delivers the staggering message that mass incarceration could be equated to the post-Civil War Jim Crow Era. [355]

The fight against mass incarceration has also been a part of the larger discourse in the 21st century movement for Black Lives. #BlackLivesMatter, a progressive movement created by Alicia Garza after the death of Trayvon Martin, was designed as an online platform to fight against anti-Black sentiments such as mass incarceration, police brutality, and ingrained racism within modern society. According to Garza, "Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks' contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression." This movement has focused on specific racial issues faced by African Americans in the justice system including police brutality, ending capital punishment, and eliminating "the criminalization and dehumanization of Black youth across all areas of society." [356]

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice, is responsible for the administration of United States federal prisons.

Imprisonment by the state judicial systems has steadily diminished since 2006 to 2012, from 689,536 annually to 553,843 annually. [357]

Mass Incarceration

Despite making up close to 5% of the global population, the U.S. has nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. Since 1970, our incarcerated population has increased by 700% ­­– 2.3 million people in jail and prison today, far outpacing population growth and crime.

One out of every three Black boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino boys—compared to one of every 17 white boys. At the same time, women are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the United States.

‪There are twice as many people sitting in local jails awaiting trial and presumed innocent than in the entire federal prison system. And each year, 650,000 men and women nationwide return from prison to their communities. They face nearly 50,000 federal, state, and local legal restrictions that make it difficult to reintegrate back into society.

Our prison system costs taxpayers $80 billion per year. This money should be spent building up, not further harming, communities. Investment, not incarceration, is how we improve safety.

Prisons: History

The Great Depression of the 1930s resulted in greater use of imprisonment and different public attitudes about prisoners. From 1925 to 1939 the nation's rate of incarceration climbed from 79 to 137 per 100,000 residents. In large measure, this growth was driven by greater incarceration of blacks. Between 1930 and 1936 alone, black incarceration rates rose to a level about three times greater than those for whites, while white incarceration rates actually declined.

During the late 1930s, sociologists who were studying various prison communities began to report the existence of rigid class systems among the convicts. Donald Clemmer published The Prison Community (1940), based upon his research within Menard State Prison in Illinois. Clemmer described the inmates' informal social system or inmate subculture as being governed by a convict code, which existed beside and in opposition to the institution's official rules. He also outlined a process of socialization that was undergone by entering prisoners. Clemmer defined this prisonization as "the taking on in greater or less degree of the folkways, mores, customs, and general culture of the penitentiary."

By the late 1930s, the modern American prison system had existed for more than one hundred years. During that time, many penal institutions themselves had remained unchanged. Convicts lived in a barren environment that was reduced to the absolute bare essentials, with less adornment, private property, and services than might be found in the worst city slum. One aspect that had changed rather significantly, however, was the prison labor system. In 1929 Congress passed the Hawes-Cooper Act, which enabled any state to prohibit within its borders the sale of any goods made in the prisons of another state. By the time the act became effective in 1934, most states had enacted laws restricting the sale and movement of prison products. In 1935 the Ashurst-Sumners Act strengthened the law to prohibit the transportation of prison products to any state in violation of the laws of that state. In 1940 Congress enacted legislation to bar, with a few exceptions, the interstate transportation of prison-made goods. These developments contributed to decreased reliance on prison labor to pay for prison costs. More and more inmates became idle and were not assigned to jobs.

World War II brought plummeting prison populations but renewed industrial activity as part of the war effort. After the war, and with the onset of the Cold War, prison warehousing became more prevalent, making inmate control and discipline more difficult. Another round of prison disturbances occurred in the early 1950s at the State Prison of Southern Michigan at Jackson, the Ohio State Penitentiary, Menard, and other institutions.

Imprisonment became increasingly reserved for blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans. By 1955 and the end of the Korean conflict, America's prison population had reached 185,780 and the national incarceration rate was back up to 112 per 100,000, nudged along by the "race problem." Drug law enforcement played a stronger role increasing the disproportionate imprisonment of blacks and Hispanics.

Although the United Nations adopted its Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, in 1955, justifying sentences of imprisonment only when it could be used to foster offender rehabilitation, American prisons generally continued to favor security and retributive or incapacitative approaches over rehabilitation.

Incarceration of Minorities

Courtesy of Denver Public Library – Western History Museum

In an ideal world penality would be objectively designed. Despite differences in wealth, social standing, or race everyone would be treated equally in both legal and correctional systems.[1] Unfortunately, the world we live in is far from perfect and the penal system is no exception. In recent years, the alleged “colorblindness” of American criminal justice has been questioned as the relationship between race and incarceration has been closely scrutinized. Civil rights and justice activist Michelle Alexander is one of many advocates for prison reform. In The New Jim Crow, she makes a convincing case that Blacks have been unjustly treated by the penal system. Alexander makes broad claims about prisons across the country, focusing primarily on the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans in relation to the so-called “War on Drugs” initiated in the 1980s. The present investigation, shaped by Alexander’s forceful argument, focuses on the impact of race in a single prison, the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP), located in Cañon City. It explores how the incarceration and treatment of minorities reflects social values, and how sentences and conditions of imprisonment have changed over time, especially with regard to race in America. Here, CSP intake records, wardens’ reports, and Colorado census data between 1900 and 1985 will shed light on minorities’ higher incarceration rates, inquiring as well whether persons of color have been treated differently behind bars.

While Alexander focuses her research on the prison system after the “War on Drugs” during the 1970’s and 80’s, the current study examines CSP at various points both before and after the war on drugs. In The New Jim Crow Alexander claims, “Any candid observer of American racial history must acknowledge that racism is highly adaptable. . .the rules and reasons the political system employs to enforce status relations of any kind, including racial hierarchy, evolve and change as they are challenged.”[2] The 1900 Warden’s Report supports Alexander’s assertion that racism is “highly adaptable.” Indeed, the rates of incarceration for minorities at the turn of the twentieth century were disproportionally high at CSP.[3] While minorities accounted for just two percent of Colorado’s overall population then, they made up over twelve percent of CSP inmates. Blacks (1.6 percent of Colorado population in 1900) made up eight percent of the prison population and persons identified as “Mexicans” made up close to five percent of the prison population (data not included in the 1900 census). Minorities were also far more likely to receive life sentences. Although Blacks made up only eight percent of CSP, they received eleven percent of the life sentences.[4]

Discrepancy between treatment of persons of color and whites was even more apparent for the Latino prison population. Latinos identified as “Mexicans” made up only four percent of the CSP population but accounted for an astounding thirty-three percent of life sentences.[5] Archival intake data thus demonstrates that long before the “War on Drugs,” minorities were incarcerated at higher rates and punished more harshly than their white counterparts. The laconic comments of intake officers only gesture toward an account for the reasons behind this disproportion, raising the question why minorities experienced higher incarceration rates and longer sentences than their white counterparts. The short answer is found in social circumstances broader than the structure of the penal system: explicit racism was present in all aspects of society during the early twentieth century, including corrections facilities. Understanding how race influenced the penal system requires awareness of societal conditions in the Colorado and, more broadly, the U.S. at the time. In 1900 Colorado was overwhelmingly white (ninety-eight percent). The remaining two percent of the population were 1.6 percent Black and 0.4 “other Races.” Evidently, census statistics were based on a white/black binary. In 1900 the total U.S. population was 87.8 percent White, 11.6 percent Black, and .5 percent “other.”[6]

Historical discrimination against people of color

Although minorities made up only a small percentage of the people of Colorado, they faced many discriminating obstacles. Mexicans, who had lived in Colorado long before white settlers, were discriminated against in inequitable land policies.[7] In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo brought the Mexican American War to an end and forced Mexico to cede much of its territory in North America, including land that later became Colorado.[8] Although this treaty was supposed to protect Mexican families’ land rights in the newly acquired territory, relevant treaty clauses were largely ignored and “Mexican Americans lost eighty percent of their original land grants, some to conniving lawyers and land developers, others because of high property taxes imposed on Mexican-American owners-in some cases five times higher than those paid by their Anglo neighbors.”[9] Such land loss occurred because property-holding Mexican families were seen as an obstacle to American “Manifest Destiny” in the west.[10]

Explicit racism against Blacks, too, was rampant in the early twentieth century in Colorado and across the country. In 1896, the landmark Supreme Court decision Plessey vs. Ferguson gave constitutional backing to Jim Crow and racial segregation. Racial violence was also epidemic. Between 1886 and 1900 more than 2,500 African-Americans were lynched, mostly in the South.[11] Although acts of racist violence were less common in the Rocky Mountain region than in the states of the old Confederacy, they did occur in Colorado. In 1893, for instance, a sixteen-year-old year old black boy was arrested for allegedly killing an eleven-year-old white girl, Louise Front. While the accused teenager was being transported by train to Limon, Colorado, to await trial, he was seized by masked men, doused in kerosene and burned alive.[12] The then-governor and future member of the U.S. Senate, Charles Thomas, reflected the racist attitudes of the time, calling the killing, “regrettable but necessary to uphold Anglo-Saxon justice.”[13]

The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado

In 1924 the Colorado penal system was dramatically altered by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1920’s Denver suffered a sharp increase in “prostitution, bootlegging, and prohibition violations,” while law enforcement came to be viewed as “ineffective and corrupt.”[14] The Klan capitalized on this public view of civil disorder by campaigning against the general “lawlessness” and rapid social change of the 1920’s. In practice this translated into “taking a stand” against immigrants and minorities, who “stole” white Americans’ jobs.[15] The Klan also focused on restoring “order” by strictly upholding newly established Prohibition statutes.

Virtually identical rhetoric of “restoring order” and being “tough on crime” was again widely used by public officials in the 1970’s and 1980’s during the “War on Drugs.” As Alexander notes, the War on Drugs allowed for colorblind “rhetoric on crime, welfare, taxes, and states’ rights… clearly understood by white (and black) voters as having a racial dimension, although claims to that effect were impossible to prove.”[16] Politicians in both parties claimed to be “tough on crime” in order to win votes. Eerily analogously, the rhetoric deployed by the Klan during the twenties appears to have worked too: by 1925, the Klan controlled the Colorado House of Representatives, Senate, state Supreme Court judge, seven Denver District Court benches, and various Colorado city councils.[17]

Activities of chapters of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado during the 1920s differed from contemporary analogues in the South. While the Klan in the South was primarily concerned with terrorizing Blacks, “knights” in Colorado were more concerned with consolidating political power and restoring “order.” In a letter addressed to Rev. Gus Ramage in April of 1923, Klan leaders made their position clear, stating, “We are a Christian militant organization and are ever ready to stand behind the Protestant Church as long as it remains Protestant. We are not Anti-Catholic, Anti-Jew, Anti-Negro, or Anti-anything, but are PRO-AMERICAN.”[18] The Klan in Colorado understood that the radical racism it shared with white supremacists across the old Confederacy needed to find expression different from that of its Southern counterpart. The Colorado Klan adapted to regional social and political constructs by masking its racism in nationalistic rhetoric. This rhetorical reframing was nothing new. European settlers had used nationalist rhetoric to justify the genocide and relocation of Native Americans. In the 1970’s President Nixon would make a comparable rhetorical move when he appealed to the “silent majority” of Americans who opposed “radical” social change and the Civil Rights Movement. Nationalism and racism often appear hand in hand in American history.[19]

Meanwhile, as the Klan held political power in Colorado between 1924 and 1928, the Colorado State Penitentiary correspondingly incarcerated a high number of immigrants and Catholics. The Twenty-Fifth Biennial Wardens Report (1925-1926) shows that over thirty-nine percent of the total prison population was Catholic.[20] The prior census had not provided data on religious affiliations, but it is well known that Protestants greatly outnumbered Catholics in Colorado at this time. Immigrants accounted for only 12.7 percent of Colorado’s total population in 1920, yet they made up twenty-one percent of CSP’s inmate population.[21] The ethnic group of immigrants most likely to be incarcerated was Mexican. While Mexicans accounted for only 9.2 percent of Colorado’s total immigrant population, they nonetheless made up forty-six percent of CSP’s immigrant prison population. From 1927 to 1928, the warden’s report similarly shows that the prisoner population was over thirty-six percent Catholic and over seventeen percent minorities (fifty-two percent Mexican and fourteen percent Italian).[22]

How did the Klan manage to incarcerate so many minorities and Catholics during its brief time in power? Evidently the Klan had control of the Colorado penal system. William Candlish, a Klansman, was appointed chief of police in Denver in 1924, and “any Protestant policeman who refused to fill out a Klan membership application was relegated to night shifts on undesirable beats.”[23] At the same time the “Denver District Judge Clarence Morley also was a Klansman,” and “[c]ourts often drew juries from Klan membership lists.”[24] The Ku Klux Klan thus used its political and judicial influences during the 1920’s to declare a “war on crime” decades before Reagan’s “war on drugs,” with intentions and effects similar to those of Republican national administrations of later decades.

The Klan’s most effective tool in its “war on crime” was enforcement of statutes aimed at prevention of alcohol consumption. The Prohibition movement was founded in the early twentieth century by anti-saloon leagues and evangelical Protestants who viewed “saloon culture” and urban growth as detrimental to society. In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified, banning the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquor. Under direct pressure from the Klan, Colorado legislators made the punishment of violating prohibition extreme, passing a bill that made the “ownership or operation of [alcohol] still a felony.”[25] Of course the Klan’s real concern was not with the alcohol, but with the “criminals” and “degenerates” who drank it. Often these “criminals” were minorities and immigrants.

During the early twentieth century, Mexican immigration to the U.S. was at an all-time high. In fact, “Between 1900 and 1930 more than 1,000,000 Mexicans came into the United States from Mexico.”[26] Many Mexican immigrants were Catholic. Quite unrelatedly, they drank alcohol. This behavior infuriated Colorado’s Klansmen, who saw Mexican immigrants as a direct threat to the “American way of life.” The Klan viewed Italian immigrants (also predominantly Catholic and often disregarding prohibition by making and drinking their own wine) in the same way.[27]

Prison records suggest that prohibition laws were used in Colorado to legally discriminate against religious and ethnic minorities as well as these immigrants. The Twenty Fifth Biennial Wardens Report (1925-1926) provides a shocking statistic. More than twenty-five percent of crimes committed were related to the production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol.[28] Over a quarter of the inmate population was incarcerated by an Amendment that only lasted fourteen years. Given that close to forty percent of CSP’s inmate population was Catholic and 12.7 percent were immigrants, clearly many of these minority inmates must have been incarcerated for alcohol-related infractions.[29] Immigrants, minorities, and Catholics were alike persecuted by the Klan’s “war on crime,” and were incarcerated by the deployment of discriminatory penal practices.

Incarceration as social control

In The New Jim Crow, Alexander claims that the “War on Drugs” was, in a fashion closely analogous to racialized discrimination in earlier decades, declared for the same purpose: to oppress minorities. Alexander writes, “In October 1982, President Reagan officially announced his administration’s War on Drugs. At the time he declared this new war, less than 2 percent of the American public viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the nation. This fact was no deterrent to Reagan, for the drug war from the outset had little to do with public concern about drugs and much to do about with public concern about race.”[30] Thus the real objective of both prohibition and the “War on Drugs” was to restore “order” by oppressing minority groups, and had less to do with banning substances than exercising social control.

Again, history was repeating itself. After the fall of the Klan in 1928, minorities had continued to be incarcerated at significantly higher rates than whites. In 1946 this trend escalated dramatically. According to 1950 census data the population of non-whites was still fewer than two percent, yet minorities now made up twenty-eight percent of the CSP population, with Latinos accounting for twenty-one percent and Blacks accounting for seven percent.[31] At the same time, however, the Civil Rights Movement swept the nation, bringing with it legislative and social changes. In 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, a law aiming to end legal barriers to voting by African-Americans at the state and local levels. Martin Luther King and others led non-violent civil rights protests calling for equality. Although the Civil Rights Movement succeeded in ending racial segregation, however, it had no effect on the racial disparities within CSP. As the twenty-first century drew closer, the racialization of incarceration in Colorado had not changed. After Jim Crow ended, racism within the prison system once again “evolved” and became what Alexander would describe as officially “race neutral,” yet the incarceration rates of racial and ethnic minorities continued to increase. The “racially sanitized rhetoric of cracking down on crime” made it difficult to pinpoint a newly “evolved” racism.[32] The Colorado Prison Study, September 1974 provides evidence that racial bias within the Colorado penal system had dramatically increased despite the social efforts of the Civil Rights Movement and the legislative “victories” for racial equality. In 1974 after complaints of “racial disturbances,” the Colorado Advisory Committee investigated the issue of race in all Cañon City prisons. Unsurprisingly, researchers found a disproportionate number of minorities imprisoned, racism in the job placement for inmates, and shockingly few correctional officers of color.[33]

Researchers found that minorities made up fifty-three percent of the CSP population but only accounted for eighteen percent of Colorado’s total population. African Americans accounted for 3.4 percent of Colorado’s total population but over twenty percent of CSP’s inmate population, while Latinos accounted for 13.1 percent of Colorado’s total population but over thirty-two percent of CSP’s inmate population. Meanwhile, whites accounted for eighty-two percent of Colorado’s total population, but only forty-six percent of CSP’s inmate population.[34] While wardens’ reports had recorded the over-incarceration of minorities for decades, never before had a private study been conducted on institutional racism within the CSP. The 1974 survey uncovered a broad variety of racial discrepancies. Although prison officials claimed that housing and job placement were assigned “randomly,” statistical data from the study proved otherwise. Of all the living quarters, the prisoners interviewed in the study preferred Cell House Six, which was 63.3 percent White, 13.6 percent Black, and 21.2 percent Latino.[35] Inmates of color were meanwhile given less desirable jobs. The study shows that minorities were given the “hard” and “dirty” jobs while whites were assigned to the “clean” and “easy” ones. The most desirable jobs were in the hospital (twenty-two percent minority workers), control center (nine percent minorities), storeroom (twenty-four percent minorities), west gate (twenty-four percent minorities), and electric shop (zero persons of color). The least desirable jobs, again with the percent of minority workers in parentheses, were in the boiler house (eighty percent minorities), coal pile (sixty-four percent minorities), laundry (seventy-seven percent minorities), kitchen (seventy-four percent minorities), and janitorial (seventy percent minorities).[36]

The Colorado Prison Study, September 1974 was assembled by the Colorado Advisory Committee and given directly to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. The production of this report itself reflects public concern. Before this time, it seemed no one cared enough to investigate “racial disturbances” the report was intended to explore. However, statistics from the 1985-1986 Warden’s Report show that the independent study had little impact on the ground in Cañon City with respect to the over-incarceration of minorities. In 1985 Blacks made up only 3.5 percent of Colorado’s total population, but accounted for 19.2 percent of CSP’s inmate population. Latinos were 11.8 percent of Colorado’s total population, but accounted for 23.1 percent of CSP’s inmate population.[37]

One explanation for this lack of progress—an account Alexander supports—is that President Reagan officially declared his “War on Drugs” in October 1982, and “[p]ractically overnight the budgets of federal law enforcement agencies soared. Between 1980 and 1984, FBI antidrug funding increased from $8 million to $95 million.” Programs like “Operation Pipeline” and the “Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant” received heavy funding from the Federal Government. These programs incentivized law enforcement to crack down on drug-related crimes, and disproportionately damaged minority communities.[38] Data from the 1985 CSP Warden’s Report provides conflicting evidence. According to the report, drug-related offenses accounted for only five percent of total crimes committed. While this figure may not seem high, drug charges were the fourth most common of felonies represented.[39] Unfortunately, the warden’s report does not connect race with specific charges. Statistics provided in The New Jim Crow, alongside the practice of incarceration in Colorado’s flagship prison, nevertheless affirm that a disproportionally high number of minority prisoners were incarcerated for drug related charges, so exacerbating the existing racism of carceral practice in the Rocky Mountain region.

In the last hundred years of its long and complicated history, the CSP has adapted to many societal changes: the early days of western expansion, the reign of the Ku Klux Klan, the Civil Rights Movement, and the age of mass incarceration. While some positive changes have shaped society in regard to racial discrimination, the over-incarceration of minorities has gotten progressively worse. Colorado Department of Corrections reports show that racial inequality within the Colorado penal system is still a huge issue. In 2006 more than twenty-eight thousand people were incarcerated in DOC facilities. The statistics on race and incarceration show radical disproportion: Latinos account for 17.1 percent of the population in Colorado, but make up 29.9 percent of the prison population. Blacks make up 3.8 percent of Colorado’s population, but represent 20.7 percent of the state’s prison population. Whites, however, are 74.5 percent of the state’s population, but only account for 46.4 percent of the prison population.[40] The mass incarceration of minorities is a serious issue of which too few Coloradoans or other Americans are aware.

How can this racialized injustice be addressed? As Alexander states, “The prevailing caste system cannot be successfully dismantled with a purely race-neutral approach.”[41] In-depth study of CSP shows that changes in public policy intended to address racism have had remarkably little effect on the incarceration rates of minorities. Racism in the penal system is reflective of racism within society at large—only it is th more ineradicable. In order to reform the penal system, we must first fundamentally change the way we think about race in America.

[1] Originally researched and drafted by Evan Miyawaki.

[2] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010), 21.

[3] State of Colorado, Bureau of Corrections, Biennial Report. . .1899-1900, 118-141.

[6] U.S. Census Bureau, “Statistics of Population,” 1900.

[7] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Home-Grown Racism: Colorado’s Historic Embrace – and Denial – of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama School of Law, 1999), 721-722.

[10] Reginald Horsman, “Anglo Saxons and Mexicans,” in Race and Manifest Destiny, (Boston, Harvard University Press, 1981), 208-213.

[12] Delgado and Stefancic, 720.

[17] Robert Alan Goldberg, “Klan Control of Politics,” in Hooded Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 68-83.

[19] Etienne Balibar, “Racism and Nationalism,” in Nations and Nationalism: A Reader, edited by Phillip Spencer and Howard Wolman, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991), 163-72.

[20] State of Colorado, Board of Corrections, Biennial Report. . .1925-26, 56.

[21] U.S. Census Bureau, “Statistics of Population,” 1920 State of Colorado, Board of Corrections, Biennial Report. . .1925-26, 33.

[22] State of Colorado, Bureau of Corrections, Biennial Report 1927-28, 35.

[23] Delgado and Stefancic, 726.

[25] Cara Degette, “When Colorado was Klan Country,” Colorado Independent, January 9, 2009.

[26] Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, Mexican Immigration to the United States, 1908-1932,

[27] Delancey Place, Political Alliances- The KKK and the Anti-Saloon League Big Think, Think Big, accessed November 8, 2015,

[28] Biennial Report. . .1925-26, 35.

[31] State of Colorado, Bureau of Corrections, Biennial Report 1946-47, 19.

The Politics of a Second Gilded Age

There is a growing consensus that American mass incarceration is not only wrong but a moral abomination.

With an incarceration rate exceeding 700 people for every 100,000, Americans have built a prison monstrosity that has few parallels in history — destroying untold millions of lives and families in just a few decades. Future generations will no doubt wonder how the wealthiest, most developed country in the world ever tolerated such barbarism.

But when it comes to the policies necessary to deconstruct this leviathan, there’s not much consensus at all — even among the Left. And that’s likely because no one can agree on what exactly led to its construction in the first place.

Published in 2010, Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow was a sensation. Here, finally, was the answer to why we built so many prisons: racism. The American carceral state, in her telling, was just another form of racialized social control little different than Jim Crow before it.

Naomi Murakawa’s The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (2014) and Elizabeth Hinton’s From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (2016) were built on this thesis, going so far as to argue that, despite what the statistics say, there was no crime wave in the United States in the 1960s through 1980s. It was, in fact, a racist fiction created by political elites of both parties in order to support the mass jailing of black Americans.

But, as John Clegg and Adaner Usmani argue in Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy, this is an answer that looks less persuasive every year. Their groundbreaking essay “The Economic Origins of Mass Incarceration” argues that, far from a fiction, the crime wave that swept America beginning in the late 1960s was very real. And the mass imprisonment of Americans was the direct, though not necessary, consequence.

Clegg and Usmani argue that the choice to respond to that crime wave with more incarceration lay not in white racial animus but in the failure to build an egalitarian welfare state in America — the direct result of the underdevelopment of this country’s labor movement.

Without a strong working-class movement to force the state to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, social democracy was a dead letter in America. This meant the American state was left with only one other, far less expensive option to address the violence brewing among the poorest and most vulnerable: prisons.

Coauthor John Clegg spoke with Doug Henwood for the Jacobin Radio podcast “Behind the News” earlier this year. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

We have a conventional understanding, or at least on the Left there’s a conventional understanding, of how the United States ended up with so many prisoners and such a giant carceral machine. Michelle Alexander now has served a role as the canonical author of that story. What is that story, and what issue do you have with it?

Alexander’s story, which, as you mentioned, has become the canonical story, both in the popular and the scholarly literature, begins with a Republican political strategy in the late 1960s, sometimes referred to as “the Southern strategy,” to appropriate votes from the Democratic Party, specifically those of Southern whites who were aggrieved by civil rights movement victories in the ’60s. The idea is that they’re essentially appealing to this Southern Democratic vote with a law-and-order policy that’s really a dog-whistle politics that is about criminalizing African Americans. Alexander’s argument is that the criminalization of black and brown life is a strategy that these law-and-order politicians in the ’60s and ’70s were deliberately implementing under the aegis of the so-called War on Drugs.

Richard Nixon announced the War on Drugs in the early ’70s, and very soon, many politicians were adopting the same language. The idea is that this filtered down through state legislatures, prosecutors, judges, and police, turning what would have been misdemeanor offenses into felonies, increasing sentence lengths, reducing parole, etc. The story is essentially a political one, mostly at the federal level, where Republican actors were seeking a new strategy for winning the South. And this, at base, is held to have led to the roughly sevenfold increase in the US prison population from 1970 to 2008.

Something that’s forgotten by most people is that we started the ’70s with a relatively low incarceration rate, by today’s standards. And there was even talk, as I recall, of the end of incarceration or something like that — and, of course, that all changed rather rapidly.

Absolutely. In the 1960s, US incarceration rates were comparable to incarceration rates in other developed countries, and they were even falling in many places. There was a widespread sense that the reform of the prison system would mean a decline or even, as you mentioned, an eradication of the prison. Yet two decades later, the United States is incarcerating people at roughly an order of magnitude above levels in comparable developed nations.

Are you rejecting that story entirely, or do you just find it incomplete and somewhat unspecified?

We’re not rejecting the whole story Alexander and others tell. Many of the details, such as the actual fact of a Republican Southern strategy, the reality of the War on Drugs, we would never contest. It is also undoubtedly true that mass incarceration has criminalized black and brown life in America today, that the racial disparity of incarceration is extremely high, and that much of this did actually occur through the changes to law and sentencing policy identified in Alexander’s story, although we’d argue that changes in prosecutorial and police powers also played a key role. However, we do identify a number of problems with this story. First, the focus on the War on Drugs has been misleading. Drug prisoners, those arrested for drug offenses, are a very small portion of the overall prison population in the United States.

It’s much more important in the federal system, but the federal system is much smaller than the state system.

Yes, another issue we have with the standard story is that it tends to focus on the federal government. Thus, I mentioned the Southern strategy, which was concocted at the federal level. People also point to the big federal crime bills in the ’80s and ’90s as the key infrastructure of mass incarceration. But the vast majority of prisoners in the United States today are held in state prisons and local jails, compared to which the federal prison system is tiny. There’s a larger share of drug prisoners in the federal system, as you mentioned, than in these state and local carceral systems. But even in the federal system, drug prisoners are a minority. And in the overall prison population in America, only a small percentage of inmates have been arrested for drug offenses. It depends how you classify it, but it ranges from a minimum of about 5 percent of the prison population to a maximum of about 20 percent of the prison population, which means that the vast majority of prisoners today are not in prison because of offenses that could be linked to the War on Drugs. The two largest groups in prison are people who are arrested for violent crimes and people who are arrested for property offenses.

That’s an important fact which gets overlooked in the Alexander narrative, that there was a really sharp increase in the rate of violent crime, and that most people who are arrested, are arrested for violent or property offenses, not just because they had a bag of weed.

Certainly. The reality of the rise of crime, beginning in the late ’60s and continuing through the ’70s and ’80s, is something that we emphasize against a typical reluctance in leftist and liberal work on this phenomena to acknowledge crime. I mean, the standard story about the War on Drugs is really about an invention of crime. According to this story, new laws are criminalizing activities that wouldn’t otherwise lead to a prison sentence. Thus, all we need to do is change these laws, and we can get rid of the problem: we can address mass incarceration simply by releasing all these people who clearly shouldn’t be in prison anyway.

Of course, in our view, most people shouldn’t be in prison. We’re not supporters of incarceration as a strategy for addressing crime. But what we do want to say is that the real rise in crime reflected a broader social crisis that America was facing in the ’70s and ’80s. Denying that context by emphasizing the drug war as this state-manufactured intervention is, in our view, to miss the fundamental story. Between 1960 and 1980, homicide rates doubled in America, property crime rates increased about threefold, and violent crime increased about fivefold. That major crime wave, which we think is unmistakable in the historical evidence, is played down by many liberal and progressive commentators, in part, I think, because they assume that acknowledging the reality of crime is to somehow play the blame game, to blame individuals rather than the system.

We want to push back strongly against this assumption. For us, crime is an index of oppression. To deny the reality of crime is tantamount to denying the reality of the causes of crime, which are, in our view, poverty, inequality, social vulnerability, and exploitation. The Left should not be in a position of denying such things.

Before we move on, I want to emphasize, as somebody old enough to have lived through a lot of that, I do recall it. Even if you get down to the state and local level, there are plenty of reactionary politicians who are using fear of crime to promote a broadly reactionary agenda. They’re making the most of it from their own right-wing point of view, so we shouldn’t completely dismiss that. It wasn’t just Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Certainly not, and we wouldn’t want to deny the explicitly racist dimension of much of that political positioning. But we would emphasize that the Right does not have a monopoly on law-and-order politics in the era. In the ’70s and ’80s, it really became a hegemonic politics. By the mid-’90s, the Democrats under Bill Clinton were outdoing the Republicans in their punitiveness, in their emphasis on locking up as many people as possible and throwing away the key.

You also have an interesting chart in your paper measuring punitiveness and public attitudes. Can you talk about what happened with public attitudes on punitiveness?

As I mentioned, Republicans are at the forefront, in the ’70s, of driving a law-and-order agenda, and that clearly does have a dog-whistle, racist component to it. But to understand why it becomes hegemonic, you have to understand that all politicians, not just Republicans, are under pressure from their constituents to address a real crisis that’s unfolding, particularly in the cities, in the early ’70s, where levels of crime and violence are sharply rising. What we see in the public opinion data is an increasing demand for something to be done about crime, and that’s a demand that we find equally growing among white respondents to public opinion surveys and black respondents to public opinion surveys. Yet that demand is filtered by the American political system in one direction only, and that is in a punitive direction.

If you ask people what they want to be done about crime, they will often be open to many different suggestions, including both punitive policies, like longer sentences, tougher policing, etc., and social policies, like better social services and more jobs. That combination of demands we see across the board, with both black and white respondents in public opinion surveys, but in the 1970s and ’80s, it’s only the punitive demands that we see getting actually taken up by political actors. Then we have an argument about why that is, which is kind of the core of the paper, really.

How do you explain the rise in crime from, say, the early-to-mid-’60s into the early ’90s? The peak murder year in New York City was ’91 and ’92, and it’s gone down about 90 percent from that peak. But how do you explain that incredible rise, which is really without modern precedent?

I have to say that our explanation for the rise in crime is still tentative in some ways. But the existing literature and the existing data suggest that the crime rise beginning in the late ’60s is primarily an urban phenomenon. The main factor appears to be what is sometimes referred to as “the urban crisis” in the 1960s and ’70s. The cities are being drained of resources, as white flight is taking tax dollars to the suburbs at the same time that the Second Great Migration is leading to an influx of poor African Americans from the South, and at the same time that progressives are actually winning some social policy reforms at the city level that are designed to address some of these problems.

But it’s precisely in those attempts to use local taxes to address a crisis of poverty, concentrated specifically in African American neighborhoods, that you see tax flight increasing. So the attempt by homeowners is to avoid the increased taxes by fleeing to the suburbs as well as avoiding African Americans. There’s an economic dimension to white flight as well as a racist one. The infrastructure of the city, from social services and education to housing and police, is being sapped of resources at the same time that cities are undergoing vast transformations and increased levels of segregation. And this is the furnace in which we see a big increase in the homicide rate, for instance, and in other measures of interpersonal violence beginning in the late ’60s and really continuing up into the early ’90s.

And we shouldn’t forget that suburbanization, the white flight that you speak of, was subsidized by public policy for decades.

Absolutely. The federal government laid the infrastructure by laying the federal highway system in the ’50s. They also subsidized it through loans to suburban constituents and state governments.

And at that same time, we also saw manufacturing employment moving out of the cities, first to the Sunbelt and then out of the United States, so employment opportunities for people without high educational qualifications were disappearing.

Absolutely, that’s a central part of our argument — the lack of employment opportunities, specifically for lower-skilled men beginning in the ’60s. We often think of the ’60s as this period of prosperity, but that prosperity was very unequally distributed. And if you look at African American men, you see declining rates of employment already beginning in the 1960s.

Why did these underlying economic developments — the disinvestment in cities, suburban flight, the disappearance of jobs in the urban core — why did this kind of systematic deprivation take the form of a rising crime rate?

Crime is a complex thing to explain, but if we look specifically at interpersonal violence, we find that it is very correlated with two things. On the one hand, poverty, and particularly concentrated poverty, and on the other hand, inequality, including racial inequality and segregation. We find that consistently across time, looking at the United States today, looking at the United States in the ’60s. We don’t fully understand all the reasons for that, but one important reason is that when people lack opportunities, specifically when they lack opportunities for jobs and stable incomes, then an illegitimate economy comes to replace the legitimate one. People have incentives to take risks in finding illicit forms of income, and that itself drives a lot of the criminalized behavior that we see rising in the 1960s around the drug trade, around illegal gambling and prostitution, etc.

But on top of that, the illicit economy has a tendency to resolve disputes through violence, because they obviously can’t appeal to law enforcement, and African American communities specifically have not been able to rely on responsive police services.

The news that African American communities have historically been underpoliced will shock people who are used to, say, Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policies and constant harassment and shootings by police of unarmed black guys. How were they underpoliced?

Yes, it seems that we have forgotten that predominantly white police departments historically had a tendency to ignore crime in African American communities, while racist white courts tended to offer more lenient sentences for “black-on-black” crime. James Foreman Jr shows that, in the 1950s, the black community in DC was often appealing to the police to pay more attention to problems that they faced, especially in terms of interpersonal violence. Obviously, you see a reversal of that tendency in more recent decades, with an overpolicing approach and an overly brutal policing approach. In the ’50s and ’60s, there was the brutality, but people who committed crimes in African American communities, and specifically with African American victims, often went unpunished. This resulted in higher levels of interpersonal violence, as people who feel they can be victimized with impunity will tend to take preemptive measures to defend themselves. However, the shift from underpolicing to overpolicing didn’t really change that dynamic, as the brutality remained constant, and police were no more trusted to resolve conflicts than before.

Of course, there’s the great counterfactual. If we had a generous welfare state, and social protections and investment in poor regions that prevented all these geographical disparities from deepening, then the story might have been very different, right?

There are actually two counterfactuals we’re interested in. One counterfactual is, how would the rise of violence in the 1960s and ’70s have been avoided? There, we look at the institutional responses to the Great Migration, deindustrialization, and suburbanization, and the fact of how social policy is organized on a geographical basis in the United States, so that essentially the city, the institution that’s responsible for dealing with crime, is the least well funded, the least capable of redistributing of any level of the American government. There’s not enough wealthy people to tax. Chicago can’t tax the dot-com billionaires because they don’t live there, and if the rich are leaving, there’s actually no way to fund the kinds of social services that would be necessary just to maintain a minimum level of social infrastructure in a deindustrializing city.

At the same time, the other counterfactual we look at is, did they have to respond to the rise in crime and violence punitively? And we argue that they didn’t. There’s no necessary reason that the state should take this kind of harsh approach, given that there are other options. If you look at European countries at the same time, which also experienced a rise of crime in the 1960s, you don’t see a ramping up of the prison population and a clamping down in the same way that you do in the United States, in part because in Europe, there are other social policies that are being put in place. Social-democratic redistribution is there to absorb some of that pressure from below. In the United States, without a plausible capacity (fiscal and political) to address the root causes of crime, popular pressure to do something, anything, about high rates of violence — specifically in deprived urban communities — leads to a situation in which there is only this one option of punitiveness left on the table. We argue that the key to really understanding that is the relative cheapness of punishment when compared to social policy.

You make the point that, yes, it may cost more to incarcerate someone than it does to educate them, but on the other hand, there are very many fewer people who are incarcerated than educated. So, if you work out the numbers, it’s a lot cheaper to build the carceral state.

Absolutely. Today, the United States spends a huge amount on prisons, police, and courts. Something like $250 billion is spent on that. That is a lot of money. It’s certainly a lot compared to what other countries spend. But it’s nothing compared to what the United States itself spends, in its cheap and miserly way, on welfare and other social policies. The American social policy budget is, depending on how you measure it, between 1 and 3 trillion dollars. It’s always going to be the case that social policy is more expensive than penal policy because, as you say, although the per-person costs of incarceration are high, the number of people that come into contact with police and prisons is always going to be less than the number of people that come into contact with the welfare state.

We’ve seen a decline in the crime rate, a very substantial one. The incarceration rate has only come down a little bit. It’s turned down, but it’s certainly not dropping anywhere as dramatically as the crime rate has. What’s happened to keep this carceral state running?

That’s not something we address directly in the paper, but we are very interested in this question of why incarceration rates have not fallen as fast as crime rates. It’s not true, as some argue, that incarceration has moved in an opposite direction to crime. If we look at the change of incarceration, which is a better comparison, because it’s a flow, like the crime rate, rather than a stock, then it becomes clear that the rate of admissions into prisons in the United States has fallen along with the crime rate. But, as you say, it has certainly not fallen as fast as the crime rate, or as it should have done by any measure of justice. America still imprisons its population at vastly higher rates than any comparable nation, even with a decades-long decline in the crime rate that has led to a decline in the incarcerated population.

To explain this, I would point, as many others have, to infrastructural and institutional persistences. Prisons, in particular, tend to have their own self-sustaining logic. There is clearly a prison industry that has a vested interest in maintaining itself, although I have to point out that private prisons are not driving this. But certainly, also, the kinds of reforms that are beginning to be implemented are not having much effect — the incremental reforms that we’re beginning to see today, reducing sentences for low-level drug offenders, especially. We don’t see much of an impact, and that’s, as I already explained, I think because those kinds of low-level offenders that are relatively easy politically to release, or to reduce the sentence length of, they don’t form a very significant percentage of the prison population.

How do we get off this brutal and cruel and horrific incarceration train?

That’s a big question that we’re only beginning to answer. The contribution that Adaner and I want to make is to remind us we’re living through a period where pushing back against mass incarceration is relatively easy, because crime rates are falling. But crime rates won’t continue to fall forever, and at some point, they’ll start to rise again. And at that point, we have to recognize that the way to address the enormous disparities, both in the incarcerated population and in American society more generally, which drives the disparities in the incarcerated population, requires much more than tinkering at the edges of carceral policy.

Yeah, it’s not a matter of just criminal justice reform alone.

Exactly. Criminal justice reform matters, but the task before us is, in fact, much greater than that. The task before us is addressing the extreme inequalities in American society that lie behind the high rates of both crime and incarceration.