Mass Incarceration: 21 Amazing Facts About America’s Obsession With Prison

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They Will Lock You Up To If They Get The Chance - Photo by BarnellbeNobody in the world loves locking people behind bars as much as Americans do.  We have more people in prison than any other nation on the planet.  We also have a higher percentage of our population locked up than anyone else does by a very large margin.  But has all of this imprisonment actually made us safer?  Well, the last time I checked, crime was still wildly out of control in America and for the most recent year that we have numbers for violent crime was up 15 percent.  The number of people that we have locked up has quadrupled since 1980, but this is not solving any of our problems.  Clearly, what we are doing is not working.


Nobody wants more crime.  And it seems logical that locking more people up and keeping them in prison for longer terms would “clean up our streets” and make our communities safer.  But instead, we have spawned a “prison industrial complex” that costs taxpayers more than 60 billion dollars a year but that does very little to turn the lives of the men and women inside around.  The chart posted below is a bit old, but it shows that we have a massive problem with recidivism in this country…

Recidivism in the United States

So what should we do?

To keep people from committing the same crimes should we just lock them up even longer?

Should we penalize a young kid for the rest of his life for a non-violent mistake that he made when he was 19 years old?

Should we continue to tear apart families and communities just so that we can have the illusion of feeling a little bit safer?

Or could it be possible that there is a better way to deal with all of this crime?

The following are 21 amazing facts about America’s obsession with prison…

#1 There are more than 2.4 million people behind bars in America as you read this article.

#2 Since 1980, the number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons has quadrupled.

#3 The incarceration rate in the United States is more than 4 times higher than the incarceration rate in the UK and more than 6 times higher than the incarceration rate in Canada.

#4 Approximately 12 million people cycle through local jails in the U.S. each and every year.

#5 Overall, the United States has the largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate in the entire world.

#6 Approximately one out of every four prisoners on the entire planet are in U.S. prisons, but the United States only accounts for about five percent of the total global population.

#7 The state of Maryland (total population 5.9 million) has more people in prison than Iraq (total population 31.9 million).

#8 The state of Ohio (total population 11.6 million) has more people in prison than Pakistan (total population 192.1 million).

#9 Incredibly, 41 percent of all young people in America have been arrested by the time they turn 23.

#10 Between 1990 and 2009 the number of Americans in private prisons increased by about 1600 percent.

#11 At this point, private prison companies operate more than 50 percent of all “youth correctional facilities” in this nation.

#12 There are more African-Americans under “correctional supervision” right now than were in slavery in the United States in 1850.

#13 Approximately 90 percent of those being held in prisons in the United States are men.

#14 The incarceration rate for African-American men is more than 6 times higher than it is for white men.

#15 An astounding 37.2 percent of African-American men from age 20 to age 34 with less than a high school education were incarcerated in 2008.

#16 Police in New York City conducted nearly 700,000 “stop-and-frisk searches” in 2011 alone.

#17 The “SWATification” of America has gotten completely and totally out of control.  Back in 1980, there were only about 3,000 SWAT raids in the United States for the entire year.  Today, there are more than 80,000 SWAT raids in the United States every single year.

#18 Illegal immigrants make up approximately 30 percent of the total population in our federal, state and local prisons.

#19 The average “minimum security” inmate in federal prison costs U.S. taxpayers $21,000 a year.

#20 The average “maximum security” inmate in federal prison costs U.S. taxpayers $33,000 a year.

#21 Overall, it costs more than 60 billion dollars a year to keep all of these people locked up.

And it certainly does not help that we treat ex-cons as pariahs once they leave prison.

Most people will not hire them, and in many cases public assistance is not available to them.  Often their wives and families have abandoned them, and they have no roots in their communities after being away for so long.  Without any options, it is really easy for many of them to fall back into crime.  And that is the last thing that we should want to see happen.

It is almost as if we give up on someone once that person is convicted of a felony.  We want criminals locked up for as long as possible, and then once they get out we make it extremely difficult for them to reintegrate into society.

Without a doubt, there are a lot of really bad people locked up in our prisons.  And criminals should be punished for their crimes.  But there are also a whole lot of people that made one stupid mistake when they were young, and there are also a whole lot of people that do not deserve to be there at all.

Perhaps instead of totally rejecting our prison population, we should have a little bit more love and compassion for them.

Perhaps instead of treating them as worthless pariahs, we should be doing more to change their hearts and to help them eventually reintegrate into society.

In the end, the truth is that none of us is perfect.

We all need grace and we all need forgiveness.

Perhaps we should remember that.

  • DJohn1

    Part of the problem is people convicted of crimes they did not commit.
    DNA evidence has vindicated many of these people. Then the state attempts to get a release of liability before they will let these innocent people go! The smart ones get lawyers and sue.
    I think they have the wrong set of criminals behind bars. The ones sitting in the prosecutor’s offices appear to be more guilty than the people they are sending to prison sometimes. The also appear to be immune from law breaking in some cases..
    We have the largest prison population for a reason. That reason is that our system of laws is set up to free the wealthy while unjustly convicting the poor in many cases.
    Black people have a larger number of poor people than white people do. So it is no wonder that the black people have more people in jail than white people do.
    Another part of the problem is education. There is a definite cultural difference dating all the way back to the time of slavery. That difference means a different vocabulary often times in one’s youth. Which in turn makes learning the basics harder.
    There are many people of all races that are exceptionally intelligent and these people overcome the difficulties of environment that plays such a large role in how people end up.
    But we are talking about average, everyday people of average intelligence, that the entire education system forgets about.
    If they were doing right by our people, then the average people would be taught to make a living. They would be given opportunities to learn trades. Not everyone needs to be a chief. But everyone needs to learn to make money, not minimum wage trash jobs that no one wants because they pay nothing.
    I suggest that we put the people capable of this in the armed services and train them in jobs to make a living. Do away with the criminal records of anyone that serves 4 years in the armed forces and learns a trade.

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    • Jodie Lynn Gaeta

      Aside from those prosecutors who are simply corrupt, some of them are incapable of compassion and unconcerned with justice. (many judges too of course) and since these people possess considerable authority and power to ruin lives they are very dangerous. I mention as examples State’s Attorney Michael L. Regan of CT and Harold E. Specht of Ohio. Such men embody the definition of the word “sociopath”, and yet they receive honors and promotions despite the public outrage over their cruel behavior.

    • Riogrande

      “Black people have a larger number of poor people than white people do” This is FALSE. Check it out.

    • anonymous1

      You are brilliant. How do I vote this up 100+ times?

  • Undecider

    Towards the crux of the issue, and the elephant in the room, is the Prison Industrial Complex. So long as it’s profitable to put people behind bars, there will always be the incentive to keep people behind bars. After all, bed space costs money and someone will be willing to accept (or engineer) a contract to take care of said prisoners.

    Just make everything illegal. That’s how it works. Then you can be arrested and put behind bars, even on a whim.

    The solution would be to legalize most of which was made illegal. Unless someone is actually hurt, there should be no reason for imprisonment. Let’s begin with that.

    • TruthIsAll

      That’s the truth with most of our problems. War comes at the behest of the military-industrial complex. Sickness comes at that of big pharma. Even poverty is exacerbated because charity is also a huge business. (Just look at Red Cross and how much their CEO makes.)

      “Why fix the problem when there stands to be so much money to make?” That is the mindset of the evil elite in our societies and why we’re going to keep walking backwards until we’re back to feudalism. This is something only rope and a tall tree will fix.

      • Charles Savoie

        “The evil elite” and “feudalism.” You just described “The Pilgrims Society,” sponsored by the British Crown—history’s most dangerous secret society.

  • Armel

    The prisons generate money for people at the top…it’s alway’s worked liked that, and it’s a shame….we let people cross the boarder illegally, but we have people who could be working in jail.

    • anonymous1

      There is a book called “The Poor Go To Prison and The Wealthy Don’t” or something like that. Prisons are only for poor people. The wealthy can pay off the right people.

      “Equal Justice Under the Law” is a myth.

  • You’reNoGandhi

    #18 Illegal immigrants make up approximately 30 percent of the total population in our federal, state and local prisons.

    You better fact check that statement. By fact check I mean actually check the official statistics and not parrot what some other storyteller scribbles.

    Let’s do the math: 2.4 million x .30 = .72

    So, you’re claiming there’s a grand total of 720,000 illegals behind bars?

    If that’s true, then we’re really in trouble.

  • seth datta

    Juus are destroying the country with their laws – it takes a brave and learned people to accept this.

  • MissaJim

    The worst part of this is the number of people incarcerated for non-violent offenses and non-offenses. The ultimate insult is for someone to be the victim of a crime then have to pay to keep that person in prison.

    • Mike

      That’s nonsense. The ultimate insult is when you are the victim of a crime and the criminal goes unpunished. You have to pay for the service of flushing turds down the toilet too. Tax dollars pay for necessary services. I think the issue here is mismanagement of government services and tax dollars.

  • Sandbagger

    Check out Infowars:

    Whistleblower: L.A. Planning to Forcibly House Homeless Citizens in Camps
    According the the whistleblower, police are going to round up homeless and place them in FEMA camps. (Although the police have been told NOT to use the term, “FEMA Camp”.

    • paw

      I can’t believe that anybody still listens to disinfowars.

  • Handog

    With so many laws on the ever expanding books it’s getting impossible to make it through the day without breaking one. As it is, There are two groups in America. Criminals and those who have not been caught and branded for life.

    • anonymous1

      There is an attorney that wrote a book called “Three Felonies a Day” or something like that.

      If they make everything illegal then they can make everyone a “criminal.” That seems to be their plan.

  • Erik Bergum

    In Roman and Mid-Evil times, many prisoners have been sentenced to death for various crimes. The majority of them have been burned at the stake. I know this kind of punishment is cruel and unusual but God has ordained capital punishment for anyone convicted of a crime and they should be punishable by death. However, rather than sentencing criminals to death, God sure can change their hearts from the inside out. They need Jesus into their lives not only for eternity but also to change their destructive lifestyles around!!!!!

    • Riogrande

      Just a note” There were no Mid-evil times -even though present times are high-evil! – it was the medieval period.

    • anonymous1

      What about the people that are innocent but are convicted? There is something called “The Innocence Project” or something like that which helps prisoners prove their innocence through DNA and a review of evidence. Also, there was a movie that was based on a true story called “Conviction” or something like that in which a crooked cop had it out for the guy.

      Who was it that said “Better to let 10 guilty walk free than to send 1 innocent to prison.”

  • Cynical Guy 42

    I’m no legal expert, but from what I understand we need to make sure there are no repeat offenders. From what I’m aware of and understand, felons have a harder time finding work.

  • hon788

    Massive gyms in the prison system along with other recreational activities available do not make it much of a deterrent to many.

  • Riogrande

    There are a lot of misstatements in this article. We need to be more critical of statements made to incite our passions!

  • paw

    Yeah, the U.S. has the largest prison population because we have the most laws and the most professional dedicated law enforcement. We live in a Republic (albeit controlled by a fascist oligarchy) and a Republic is a nation of laws. If you think things are bad in the U.S., try living in Mexico around Juarez. How about living in New Zealand, Australia, Europe, England, Canada, China, or any other place on earth where you are not legally allowed to own a gun? People tend to forget that there is a reason that the U.S. still has the lowest violent crime rate compared to all other industrialized nations. We have guns, but we also have many, many laws and dedicated law enforcement. Go see if your rights are protected the same in Nigeria where you can contract ebola.

  • Stephen Smith

    the reason why immrigrants are in the us because the government is trying to devalue the dollar the federal reserve note is falling buying gold and silver is scam it never worked and people are losing their houses like crazy THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AMERICAN DREAM IT’S A MYTh. stop going to college beacause there are no jobs for them. the governments makes a lot of money putting people in prison

  • Stephen Smith


  • anonymous1

    The true criminals are not in prison; they are in political offices, and positions of wealth and power all over the country.

    Prison is legal slavery. Prison causes emotional and mental issues. If putting intelligent animals in cages has been proven to damage their psychology, it is definitely damaging human psychology to place humans in cages. Didn’t some countries do that to POWs? Prison likely causes PTSD. Some non-violent prisoners become victims of violent crime while in prison. Prison does not rehabilitate. Instead of sending people to prison, educate them, give them job training, help them find their purpose and their calling. That would benefit society. Many may get decent jobs and pay taxes. What about the people that are found innocent many years later? How does society give them those years back?

    In a nation that claims to be 80% Christian, most of the USA never forgives. The entire foundation of Chriatianty is forgiveness and restoration. How many people in the Bible were once in prison? Doesn’t the Bible ask “Did you visit the prisoner?” Once someone has served their time, they are square with the house and nothing should be held against them. All rights should be restored. Thank goodness God forgives and forgets and that He also believes that people are a new creature when they are in Christ. For the really awful criminals, like Ted Bundy or Jeffery Dahmer, the ones that are too horrible to ever be released into society, perhaps the most humane thing to do would be to euthanize them via lethal injection.

    Take a look at the prison study done by Dr. Zimbardo at Stanford. Did he once say “Prison is evil?” His research is very enlightening.

  • It’s the LAWYERS. For every 10 lawyers in America, Japan has 1. It’s the M.I.B. (judges) getting fines to pay for their retirement program.