One Out of Every 31 Americans Is In The Criminal Justice System

by on December 7, 2007 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Organizing

A report just released on December 5th by the Department of Justice states that one out of about every 31 adults in the United States was either in prison, in jail or on supervised release (parole or probation) at the end of 2006. This means that 7.2 million men and women, an increase of 159,500 during the year, are within the criminal justice system. It is estimated that 2.38 million people were behind bars in state and federal facilities, which is an increase of 2.8% over the year before, 2005.

The report continues:

The number of men and women who were being supervised on probation or parole in the United States at year-end 2006 reached 5 million for the first time, an increase of 87,852 (or 1.8 percent) during the year. A separate study found that on December 31, 2006, there were 1,570,861 inmates under state and federal jurisdiction, an increase of 42,932 (or 2.8 percent) in 2006.
During 2006 the number of inmates under state jurisdiction rose by 37,504 (2.8 percent). The number of prisoners under federal jurisdiction rose by 5,428 (2.9 percent).

In 2006 the number of prisoners in the 10 states with the largest prison populations increased by 3.2 percent, which was more than three times the average annual growth rate (0.9 percent) in these states from 2000 through 2005. These states accounted for 65 percent of the overall increase in the U.S. prison population during 2006. The federal system remained the largest prison system with 193,046 inmates under its jurisdiction.

At year-end 2006, state prisons were operating between 98 percent and 114 percent of capacity, compared to between 100 percent and 115 percent in 2000. This trend indicates that prison populations are increasing at the same rate as expansion rates.

Last year 7.2 percent (113,791) of state and federal inmates were held in private prison facilities; another 5.0 percent (77,987) were held in local jails. About a quarter of all inmates in privately-operated facilities were being held for the federal system.

A whopping 5 million people – a record – were/ are on parole or probation.

The Number of Americans In Prison Has Risen Eight Times Since 1970 But Tough Sentencing & Prosecution Has Done Little to Impede Crime

Since 1970, the number of Americans in prison has jumped eight fold. Yet according to a recent report by the JFA Institute, a Washington criminal justice research group, rigorous prosecution and tough sentencing guidelines have not curbed crime. The report said:

Proponents of prison expansion have heralded this growth as a smashing success. But a large number of studies contradict that claim. Most scientific evidence suggests that there is little if any relationship between fluctuations in crime rates and incarceration rates. In many cases, crime rates have risen or declined independent of imprisonment rates. New York City, for example, has produced one of the nation’s largest declines in crime in the nation while significantly reducing its jail and prison populations. Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, and Massachusetts have also reduced their prison populations during the same time that crime rates were declining.

The report went on to call for a major reform of the US criminal justice system, recommending the implementation of new policies to reduce the prison population, which would include shorter sentences and the decriminalization of certain recreational drugs. These measures, the report said, would “save $20 billion a year and ease social inequality without endangering the public.” But according to Reuters, a US Justice Department spokesperson disputed the findings by the report’s authors, and asserted that zealous anti-crime tactics were responsible for a 25 percent drop in violent crime in the 1990s. (See Reuters for more.)

The U.S. Prison Population Is At Record Levels

2.38 million shut away. Never before have there been this many Americans in prison. The U.S. prison population is at an all-time high, and in fact, it saw its largest year to year increase by mid-2006. Another way to view the numbers of incarcerated citizens is to say, one out of every 133 US residents is behind bars.

State facilities and federal prisons in California and Texas account for two-thirds of all inmates. Since 2000, prison admissions have increased 17.2%. Admission rates have increased faster than release rates. One significant factor that is causing the increase is the high number of former inmates or convicted people being violated while on parole and being returned to prison. In 2005, 232,000 parole violators were sent back to prison, a 14% increase over 2000. Many parolees who are returned are violated for very menial reasons.

For example, here in San Diego County recently, a young parolee who was not supposed to have any weapons was violated and sent back to prison because his wife had a key-chain sized can of mace, for her own protection, hanging on a living-room bulletin board. He got an additional 9 months.

Forty-two of the states had increases in their inmate populations during the year between June 2005 and June 2006, while only eight states reported a decrease. This has caused some states to attempt to transfer inmates either to other states or to private facilities. Last year, this was a jump of 13%.

There are distinct disparities in the racial make-up of America’s prisons. 37% of all incarcerated inmates are African-American males, as of June 2006. 11% of all Black men between the ages of 25 and 29 are locked up. That is, with all ages, approximately 4.8% of all Black males were in prison or jail, compared with 1.9% of Latino men and 0.7% of white males.

For women, the number of female inmates rose at a higher rate than the rate for male inmates – an increase of 4.8% to more than 111,000 by mid-2006. The number of women incarcerated in the US for a period of over a year saw a large upswing, growing 757 percent between 1997 and 2004 [JURIST report], according to a report [text] released by the Women’s Prison Association.

Black women, however, are jailed at four times the rate of white females and more than double the rate of Latinas.

America Has the Most Citizens Behind Bars and the Highest Prison Population Rate in the World

With the 2.38 million Americans incarcerated and with about 701 Americans imprisoned per 100,000 people, the U.S. has the great honor of not only having the most citizens behind bars — more than China (512,194) – but also has the highest prison population rate on the planet. Our inmate rate is higher than Russia (606), Belarus (554), Kazakhstan (522), Turkmenistan (489) and Ukraine (415).

Most countries – 60.5% – have rates under 150 per 100,000. Britain has 141 per 100,000, the highest of the European Union.

See the following table for prison population rates of other countries of interest:

  Prison population
total (no. in penal
institutions incl.
pre-trial detainees)
Date Estimated
population rate
(per 100,000 of
national pop.)
  ——————— ———- ———— ——————
Canada 36,024 00-01 31.08m 116
USA 2,033,331 31/12/02 290.0m 701
Mexico 154,765 30/6/00 98.9m 156
Cuba c.33,000 /97 11.1m c.297
Venezuela 19,554 mid-03 25.7m 76
France 55,382 1/4/03 59.70m 93
Germany 81,176 31/3/03 82.56m 98
Italy 56,574 30/9/02 56.3m 100
Egypt c.80,000 /98 66.0m c.121
South Africa 180,952 31/10/03 45.0m 402
Saudi Arabia 23,720 /00 21.6m 110
Israel 10,164 1/1/02 6.25m 163
Syria 14,000 /97 15.0m 93
Iran 163,526 4/02 72.2m 226
India 304,893 30/6/02 1,041.1m 29
Myanmar (Burma) 53,195 31/12/93 45.0m 118
China 1,512,194 mid-02 1,294.4 117
Japan 67,255 mid-02 127.5 m 53
Russian Federation 864,590 1/8/03 142.7m 606
Australia 22,492 30/6/02 19.5m 115

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie December 9, 2007 at 11:22 am

Want to acknowledge a couple of inconsistencies in my above post. First, there are two different sources for US prison populations. The latest, from a report just released December 5, 2007, by the Dept. of Justice, accounts for the figure of 2.38 million Americans behind bars, whereas the figure for the rate of US incarceration (701) and the 2.03 million imprisoned are from a UN report of 2005. (I am currently searching for a link to that report.)
Meanwhile, a short blurb in the most recent Nation magazine (Dec. 17, 2007, pg 5) speaks of an American incarceration rate of 750 prisoners per 100,000 people.
Then comes Sunday the 9th of December Union-Tribune, in an article about California sentencing laws (pg. A-4) from the Associated Press, which states: “The state’s [California] incarceration rate of 475 per 100,000 residents is above the national average of 445 per 100,000.” I believe this is referring to the average of all the states’ rates — the national average of the states’ — not the over-all US rate.


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