Get the Facts on Mass Incarceration

Source: 5/22/24

Report highlights the growth in state and federal prison populations since the early 1970s, and its far reaching effect on families, communities, and society as a whole.

The United States is unparalleled historically and ranks among the highest worldwide in its dependence on incarceration.1 Over five million people in total are under supervision by the criminal legal system.2 Of these, nearly two million people, disproportionately Black, are living in prisons and jails instead of their communities. Compare this to the figures of the early 1970s when this count was 360,000.3

Mass Incarceration’s Reach

The social, moral, and fiscal costs associated with the large-scale, decades-long investment in mass imprisonment cannot be justified by any evidence of its effectiveness. Misguided changes in sentencing law and policy –not crime– account for the majority of the increase in correctional supervision.4

Mass incarceration instigates numerous poor physical, psychological, and economic outcomes for the people who experience imprisonment, for their families, as well as for the broader community.5 Imprisonment leads to declining prospects for employment and results in lower earnings in the longer term.6 Food insecurity, housing instability, and reliance on public assistance are also associated with prior imprisonment.7 Children of incarcerated parents suffer tremendously; imprisonment of a parent leads to significant declines in academic and health outcomes for children.8 High levels of incarceration also destabilizes entire communities, leading to dissolution of informal networks that are known to serve as barriers to neighborhood crime.9 Trust in law enforcement deteriorates as community members experience elevated levels of victimization and the loss of community members, friends, and family members to incarceration.10

The Surge in Prison Growth

In 1972, the imprisonment rate was 93 per 100,000 people.11 The prison expansion that commenced in 1973 reached its peak in 2009, achieving …

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