Does the U.S. Really Have the World’s Highest Incarceration Rate? – Mass Incarceration in the USA
The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate and hosts more prison inmates than all other developed nations combined. This trend of “mass incarceration” began in the 1970’s following “the War on Drugs” with incarcerations increasing rapidly from the 1980’s to 1990’s. While the incarceration rate is still high today, growth in the rate as a percentage of the population has been mostly stagnant since 1995 and declined a bit under President Obama.
Out of those incarcerated, the majority are in jail for drug offenses due to Republican and Democratic party policies like the 1994 Crime Bill and its mandatory minimum sentencing. Meanwhile, while the majority of incarcerated Americans are White, African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated as compared to what percentage of the population they make up. Lastly, those with lower pre-incarceration incomes tend to be incarcerated more often.
Mass Incarceration in the US.
TIP: see 40 Reasons Why Our Jails Are Full of Black and Poor People. Don’t get too excited liberals. This isn’t a list implicating “southern Republicans.” We also need to factor in populist fears, the bipartisan war on drugs, and the social unrest felt by black and poor communities. It is a bipartisan problem that needs a bipartisan solution.
How Many People are in U.S. Jails?
In October 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world, at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.
There are about 320 million American citizens. According to a collection of 2005 – 2014 data as presented on prisonpolicy.org, the American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.
US Prison Population: The Largest in the World.
FACT: About 70% of people held in local jails have not been arrested, but not convicted. Our population of people unable to make bail or denied bail and thus not convicted is higher than most other countries total incarcerated populations. Get more incarceration facts.
Does the U.S. Have More Crime?
Firstly, we have to note that crime involves breaking the laws. It’s not a perfect metric as breaking laws that do not involve harm to others, like the laws we have in some states against smoking marijuana, produce a different crime than broken laws that involve violence and harm to others.
Discrepancies in the metric aside, violent crime has been relatively low since the 1950’s and only saw a few minor spikes (such as 1985 – 1990). The increase isn’t a direct result of violent crime. Instead, it is largely a result of “the war on drugs.”
Our for-profit model of private prisons or funding the war on drugs has almost certainly inflated the number of Americans who are incarcerated. Follow the money. The war on drugs has combined with private prisons to create a giant and very profitable industry.
Why Is the U.S. Prison Population So Large?
Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure.
TIP: The connection between gun ownership and crime has been argued many different ways. That isn’t the topic here. See COMPARING MURDER RATES AND GUN OWNERSHIP ACROSS COUNTRIES for an idea of how this could effect violent crime incarcerations. It, of course, doesn’t affect the equally troublesome incarcerations over drug possession.
13th – Official Documentary Review. Watch 13th on NetFlix.
TIP: When an American is incarcerated after a trial they lose many of their constitutional rights. The only other humans in American history to not be protected by constitutional rights were black people prior to the passing of the 13th Amendment. This means, in strict states, you could essentially be enslaved (minus differences like the ability to be owned or bought and sold) for possessing a small amount of an illegal substance. There are similarities that should disturb any patriot. A person’s stay in a private jail as a quasi-slave is subsidized by the state. This is why both progressives and libertarians take a stand against the current prison system.
TIP: People tend to be afraid of “Crime.” Historically a key voter issue has been one of “law and order.” The United States has a history of fear of its out-of-power socioeconomic groups like immigrants, Blacks, and Latinos. Given this, Presidents like Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton all ran on a strong message of “law and order” to secure their victories, not quite like George C. Wallace, but strong enough for it to have become an inescapable part of American history.
TIP: Is Law and Order is a code word for oppression? This article explains: From Wallace To Trump, The Evolution of “Law And Order.” The same is true for “war on drugs” and “war on crime” and “busing” and “violent thugs” and “super predators” and other code words used in history to “rally the base.”
Bernie Sanders: Incarcerating a Country (4/13/1994). Sanders pointed out that the 1994 Crime Bill is bunk in 1994 (as the Clintons now admit). In the 90’s you had to be “tough on crime” like Ronald Reagan, but that doesn’t excuse it. Let us say, “Bill Clinton wasn’t called a Reagan Democrat for nothing.”
There are Some Things You Can’t Say or Do Anymore, but You Can Still Create Laws that Result in Black People Being Imprisoned and Forced to do Labor for Little or No Pay
You cannot own a person as property and profit from their labor; human trafficking is a crime. Even though you can’t legally own a person, you can use the state to imprison them, strip them of their rights, and then essentially treat them as property instead of as an equal citizen under law.
Right after 1864 southern newly freed blacks where made “apprentices,” when that didn’t work after military reconstruction, new tactics were used including Plessy v. Ferguson, Poll Taxes, and Jim Crow laws. Conditions improved, but society remained divisive after Brown v. the Board and the Kennedy and MLK inspired 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights acts passed under LBJ.
This bipartisan pro-private prison and pro-drug-war mentality, paired with a lack of reform efforts, has plagued our country for decades.
This is hardly the only reason our jails filled with Latino and African-Americans convicted of drug crimes, and it isn’t the only reason the incarceration rate for minorities is higher in the south, but it merits discussion.
We can’t look only at statistics and must look for some answers from within the communities from which imprisoned people come. We should be disturbed by the data and realize that the prison issue isn’t about crime, that the drug war isn’t about drugs, and that we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to all Americans regardless of color or class.
Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System.
FACT: Approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American, but they make up 35% of jail inmates, and 37% of prison inmates of the 2.2 million male inmates as of 2014 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2014).
|2010. Inmates in adult facilities, by race and ethnicity. Jails, and state and federal prisons. (source)|
|Race, ethnicity||% of US population||% of U.S.
|National incarceration rate
(per 100,000 of all ages)
|White (non-Hispanic)||64||39||450 per 100,000|
|Hispanic||16||19||831 per 100,000|
|Black||13||40||2,306 per 100,000|