Even though the United States has made a limited amount of progress in reducing its prison population in recent years, it remains four times larger than in 1980. Today, the U.S. has an incarceration rate of 710 inmates per 100,000 of the population, far ahead of the United Kingdom (147), Canada (118) and France (98). New research conducted by criminal justice non-profit FWD.us and Cornell University has found that 64 percent of American adults have had an immediate or extended family member spend time in prison. The researchers described the current situation in the U.S. as an “incarceration crisis”.
The following infographic uses the report’s findings to try and put that crisis into some sort of perspective. Excluding extended family, almost half of all people in the U.S. have seen someone in their immediate family jailed at some point. 27.5 percent have had a sibling locked up while 18.4 percent have had a parent put behind bars. Additionally, 18.4 percent have had a spuse or co-parent imprisoned, along with 12.2 percent who have had a child jailed.
The brutal reality of the crisis becomes readily apparent by the fact that 113 million U.S. adults have had an immediate family member incarcerated while 6.5 million said a member of their family was in prison at the time of research. Taking a closer look at the figures, black adults are 50 percent more likely than white adults to have immediate family members imprisoned and 3 times more likely to see a loved one imprisoned for a year or more. Latino adults are also 70 percent more likely than white adults to do be locked up for more than a year.
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Prisoners in the United States – statistics & facts
Ironically, it is the so-called land of the free that houses the highest prison population per capita in the OECD. With rates that have long been more than double that of their closest developmental counterparts, questions are continuously raised both domestically and internationally over why the prison population is so high. This is not a new state of affairs, with the prison population of the United States hovering around the 1.5 million people mark since the turn of the millennium.
Analysts have often pointed to drug laws in the United States as a reason for the high discrepancy between the criminal justice situation of the United States and their international peers. Since the inception of “the war on drugs” by President Nixon, the United States has housed many criminals who were imprisoned for so-called low level drug offenses. Unfortunately, the war on drugs has combined with socio-economic disparities, such as poverty rates, to produce incarceration rates that are extraordinarily higher for the black men in America. Several documentaries and social-scientists have cited the effect the war on drugs has had on racial inequality in the United States, with incarceration rates being a concrete yet saddening example.
Depending on the nature of one’s crime, it may be better to be a prisoner in some states than others. This is due to the existence of the death penalty in all but 18 states and the District of Columbia. Although California had the highest number of people on death row in 2016, Texas is the undisputed capital of capital punishment. Between 1930 and 2013, 805 people were executed for their crimes in Texas.
There are of course those who benefit from the large prison population of the United States, namely those that provide services in the highly profitable prison industry. In 2016, almost 52 billion U.S. dollars was spent on state correctional facilities in the United States. Unsurprisingly, such astronomical expenditure levels have prompted critics to voice their concern over the extent of privatization present in the American prison system. After all, it appears unlikely those running the prisoners or coordinating prisoner-related services will seek lower incarceration rates in the future so long as their bottom line is dependent on the number of those unwillingly donning an orange jumpsuit.