The Numbers: Who’s in American Prisons, and for What Crimes?

By Christopher Zoukis   Image courtesy

American prisons are currently experiencing a shortage of space and an abundance of prisoners; in a word, overcrowding.  The United States incarcerates 25 percent of the world’s prisoners despite accounting for only 5 percent of the world’s population.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons alone is experiencing overcrowding at a rate of 40 percent in its facilities, with projections indicating this rate will continue to increase.  With this overcrowding, prisoner unrest, violence, and misconduct increase.  The system is broken, and the phrases “Prison Nation” and “Incarceration Nation” continue to become more apt every year.  Something must be done, but first, the extent of the problem must be understood.  Triage is required.

While much of this overcrowding is due to our country’s policies concerning crime control (i.e., incarceration as a solution of the first resort), a significant cause of this problem is due to recidivism — the instance of prisoners or probationers returning to criminal activities and being sanctioned for doing so.  While many understand and agree that the initial instance of crime can be reduced through stronger social and educational programs for children, we find ourselves faced with a problem of returns on our current efforts.  We must stem the blood flow of recidivism now so that the system can be patched up well enough for us to focus on future generations of children, some of whom are destined to turn to crime without reform to the services currently being provided to them.

And with this, I present the following statistics in the hopes that the extent of our broken criminal justice system problem can be realized, and solutions of the same magnitude can be envisioned:


The Current State of American Corrections

  • ·         In 2009, the U.S. prisoner population totaled 1,617,417 inmates.
  • ·         In 2010, there were 500 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents.
  • ·         The South incarcerates the most prisoners, followed by the West, Midwest, and Northeast.
  • ·         Black males are incarcerated 6.7 times the rate of white males.
  • ·         Black men and women are significantly more likely to be incarcerated than all other races.
  • ·         Males are over 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than females.
  • ·         Federal prisons are currently operating systemwide at 140 percent of capacity.
  • ·         In 2010, 53 percent of released male prisoners recidivated.


Read More »