Mass Incarceration: 21 Amazing Facts About America’s Obsession With Prison

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Michael Snyder of The American Dream blog,

Nobody in the world loves locking people behind bars as much as Americans do.  We have more people in prison than any other nation on the planet.  We also have a higher percentage of our population locked up than anyone else does by a very large margin.  But has all of this imprisonment actually made us safer?  Well, the last time I checked, crime was still wildly out of control in America and for the most recent year that we have numbers for violent crime was up 15 percent.  The number of people that we have locked up has quadrupled since 1980, but this is not solving any of our problems.  Clearly, what we are doing is not working.

Nobody wants more crime.  And it seems logical that locking more people up and keeping them in prison for longer terms would “clean up our streets” and make our communities safer.  But instead, we have spawned a “prison industrial complex” that costs taxpayers more than 60 billion dollars a year but that does very little to turn the lives of the men and women inside around.  The chart posted below is a bit old, but it shows that we have a massive problem with recidivism in this country…

Recidivism in the United States

So what should we do?

To keep people from committing the same crimes should we just lock them up even longer?

Should we penalize a young kid for the rest of his life for a non-violent mistake that he made when he was 19 years old?

Should we continue to tear apart families and communities just so that we can have the illusion of feeling a little bit safer?

Or could it be possible that there is a better way to deal with all of this crime?

The following are 21 amazing facts about America’s obsession with prison…

#1 There are more than 2.4 million people behind bars in America as you read this article.

#2 Since 1980, the number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons has quadrupled.

#3 The incarceration rate in the United States is more than 4 times higher than the incarceration rate in the UK and more than 6 times higher than the incarceration rate in Canada.

#4 Approximately 12 million people cycle through local jails in the U.S. each and every year.

#5 Overall, the United States has the largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate in the entire world.

#6 Approximately one out of every four prisoners on the entire planet are in U.S. prisons, but the United States only accounts for about five percent of the total global population.

#7 The state of Maryland (total population 5.9 million) has more people in prison than Iraq (total population 31.9 million).

#8 The state of Ohio (total population 11.6 million) has more people in prison than Pakistan (total population 192.1 million).

#9 Incredibly, 41 percent of all young people in America have been arrested by the time they turn 23.

#10 Between 1990 and 2009 the number of Americans in private prisons increased by about 1600 percent.

#11 At this point, private prison companies operate more than 50 percent of all “youth correctional facilities” in this nation.

#12 There are more African-Americans under “correctional supervision” right now than were in slavery in the United States in 1850.

#13 Approximately 90 percent of those being held in prisons in the United States are men.

#14 The incarceration rate for African-American men is more than 6 times higher than it is for white men.

#15 An astounding 37.2 percent of African-American men from age 20 to age 34 with less than a high school education were incarcerated in 2008.

#16 Police in New York City conducted nearly 700,000 “stop-and-frisk searches” in 2011 alone.

#17 The “SWATification” of America has gotten completely and totally out of control.  Back in 1980, there were only about 3,000 SWAT raids in the United States for the entire year.  Today, there are more than 80,000 SWAT raids in the United States every single year.

#18 Illegal immigrants make up approximately 30 percent of the total population in our federal, state and local prisons.

#19 The average “minimum security” inmate in federal prison costs U.S. taxpayers $21,000 a year.

#20 The average “maximum security” inmate in federal prison costs U.S. taxpayers $33,000 a year.

#21 Overall, it costs more than 60 billion dollars a year to keep all of these people locked up.

And it certainly does not help that we treat ex-cons as pariahs once they leave prison.

Most people will not hire them, and in many cases public assistance is not available to them.  Often their wives and families have abandoned them, and they have no roots in their communities after being away for so long.  Without any options, it is really easy for many of them to fall back into crime.  And that is the last thing that we should want to see happen.

It is almost as if we give up on someone once that person is convicted of a felony.  We want criminals locked up for as long as possible, and then once they get out we make it extremely difficult for them to reintegrate into society.

Without a doubt, there are a lot of really bad people locked up in our prisons.  And criminals should be punished for their crimes.  But there are also a whole lot of people that made one stupid mistake when they were young, and there are also a whole lot of people that do not deserve to be there at all.

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ebworthen's picture

Corporate prisons are training grounds for new criminals and recruitment centers for gangs.

kaiserhoff's picture

Hmmm.   Is that what happened to Corzine?

zaphod's picture

I am beginning to wonder if the US is increasing the prison population simply to have a ready pool of men to force/draft into the army for the US's next hot war. Something tells me much of the country will balk at being drafted to go fight Putin in some far off land just to enrich our feudal lord banker/politician class, and so an alternative pool of people needs to be ready. 

samsara's picture

It wasn't that goal, Read my post above.

It was just a possible by product

max2205's picture

Finally, I get to read a fucking list today

tickhound's picture

It's a nice list but they're really just 21 Reasons to be Bullish about the Prison Industry.

Point by point would be an incredible showcase to any well run business with a ton of growth potential.

#10 might as well say since 1990 the number of MAC users has increased 1600%.

#13 could say since 90% of users or male, analysts predict increased growth opportunity once the business begins to tap the female market.

Drunk In Church's picture

Ths is all about our stupid drug laws.  Time to legalize.  Bitchez.

economics9698's picture

The prison population quadrupled when welfare made having a dad in the home for the poor obsolete.

Talleyrand's picture

Not likely. Too much money to be made from illegal cops, judges, lawyers, importers (drug cartels), and, of course, Corrections Corporation of America, et al. More laws, more money to be made by all the wrong people.

benb's picture

Lock the government up.

tickhound's picture

You hit on it all right there.

Corzine is worth more outside of prison. The other millions we lock up are worth their $billions behind bars.

It's a $75+ billion industry... larger than the GDP of most other nations. That's why we call it The Prison "Industry."

Its goal is to profit from locking people up, filling beds and meeting quotas. They lobby hard for laws and sentencing. And they're good at it. For the mainstream monetarists to call it unsuccessful would be hypocritical.

Its hardly different than most corporate giants, and benefits from having solid inventory controls. Like any good driving range it benefits from balls coming back.

The number crunchers for these outfits aren't trying to lower the return rate of its clientele. They have a reincarceration "use by date" like any other grocery food, or pre-planned obsolesced object that the very business counts on, and budgets around.

It's the MIC complete with false flags too and created enemies it benefits from. It's a job creator. Too big to fail.

lesterbegood's picture goes even further. The court case is securitized with a CUSPID number and sold. This particular criminal enterprise is run out of the Dallas Fed as the Court Registry Investment System, managed by JPM. The loot from this racket funds the salaries and pensions of clerks and judges. So much for 'justice'. The prisoners labor is bonded and sold. Many prisons in this country are privately owned (CCA & Wackenhut). Dick 'Darth' Cheney is a big stockholder in CCA.

ugmug's picture

'Nobody in the world loves locking people behind bars as much as Americans do.  We have more people in prison than any other nation on the planet.  We also have a higher percentage of our population locked up than anyone else does by a very large margin.  But has all of this imprisonment actually made us safer?  '

This ASSHOLE has never lived next to criminals. I'd love to drive this shithead into the middle of a ghetto and drop him off in front of a Muslim deli where there are hords of lovable innocent criminals all ready to hug his ass and fuck it at the same time. I hope these animals go roaming throughout the suburbs when society all goes to the dogs. They'll rape you, your family, your pets, and the mailbox....

Seek_Truth's picture

Why is that?
Because bleeding heart liberals think that murderers rapists and pedophiles can be "rehabilitated".
They can't.
And they are against the death penalty.
They're wrong.
Every convicted murderer, rapist and pedophile should be terminated immediately. If there is any doubt, then life in prison with zero chance f parole.

I'd add gang members to the above list, and yes I would gladly pull the trigger and volunteer my time to do so.

While I'm on a roll, I'd decriminalize every drug, while enforcing the law on robbery, burglary, theft, etc- equally for sober, drunk, and drugged up offenders.

Prisoners should be forced to work an eight hour day, 6 days a week.

Let them eat the least costly foods that sustain life.

And Watch repeat offenders disappear.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

I can agree with this. I would also eliminate prison time for victimless crimes. I think everyone has one mistake in their life and if it weren't a violent crime I'd be naturally more lenient. However, repeat offenders are the costliest bunch.

Every business when faced with increased costs looks at outsourcing or subcontracting. We seem to have a cost containment problem in the USA so why not allow other countries to bid on housing our criminals? I'm sure most would jump at 10K a year/ prisoner. A windfall to one nation and a substantial cost savings for us. Perhaps a year in a Turkish jail would make the career criminal more amiable to changing his ways? They could watch Midnight Express on the journey over.

I guess I'm not considering the cruel and unusual punishment aspect of this policy. However, I do think if prison were really a terrible place as in many third world countries, more people would make a stronger effort to avoid it.


Escrava Isaura's picture

Wrong! Corporate prisons are part of the service economy.

Antifaschistische's picture

 watch an episode of COPS.

"I'm sorry ma'am, we must arrest you because you scratched your husband"

"I'm sorry, we must arrest you because I found the little itty bitty bag of marijuana in your car"

"I'm sorry, what is this....paraphanalia!!"

It a money machine...from bail, to court fees, to fines....the county court systems are just a money machine.

samsara's picture

""'Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?' said Dr. Ferris. 'We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against - then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it.
There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible

for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that's the system, Mr. Rearden,

that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with.'"

Ayn Rand ('Atlas Shrugged' 1957

Escrava Isaura's picture

“Watch an episode of COPS.”

Sorry faschist, I don't own a TV.

Slave's picture

Do you own a gun? Please shoot yourself with it.

Blue Dog's picture

We're a lot safer today in states where criminals are locked up. We're a lot less safe in liberal states where criminals aren't locked up. And don't give me that crap about corporate prisons. Private prisons are a lot cheaper than prisons run by state government employees.

Jayda1850's picture

Can't speak for state, but I would say close to 50% of people in the federal system are in for victimless crimes, unless you can view the government as the victim. We are taught as a society to look down on cons and ex-cons, but, if some are fighting the same system we all rail against daily, why should they be looked down upon. If you want to find true revolutionaries, look no further than individuals who have been robbed of their freedom for standing up to a corrupt government.

samsara's picture

Do a little bit of reading of how it started.

Cathrine Austin Fitts does a great job with the chronology.

(At bottoms of page, use Next button)

"Whether through subsidy, credit and asset forfeiture kickbacks to state and local government or increased laws, regulations and federal sentencing and imprisonment, the supremacy of the federal enforcement infrastructure and the industry it feeds was to be a Clinton legacy."

Nice picture of Jamie btw.

"Jamie Gorelick, Harvard trained Deputy Attorney General, 1994-97, credited with making private Federal prisons a reality. "

Escrava Isaura's picture

Blue Dog,

All the indoctrinated puppets are giving the right to sound stupid. That’s too bad that you abuse of that privilege.

Alex DeLarge's picture

 Congratulations. You are my first ever down vote. How's it feel to be a tool?

yogibear's picture

"in liberal states where criminals aren't locked up." 

Their in office runnning the government.

BeetleBailey's picture

I "love" the fucksticks that say we're safer with more people locked up.

Prove it - and stop using the biased bullshit that is cranked out by the prison industrial complex.

RiderOnTheStorm's picture

I'd feel safer with you locked up!

chunga's picture

Just another racket.

From Dmitry Orlov's "Reinventing Collapse".

"Those who bemoan the out-of-control American criminal justice system would like to find ways to make it more effective. But perhaps the real problem is that it is too effective, and needs to become much less so. It is obvious that the jails race serves the purposes of the law enforcement class, providing them with employment, status and ample funds. But it bears pointing out that it serves the interests of the criminal class even better. The prison system offers many services to criminals: it allows them to congregate, network and hold seminars on the finer points of criminal technique and new ways to commit bigger and better crimes without getting caught. Furthermore, it gives criminals a periodic sabbatical, making room for two million more criminals than the victim population could otherwise sustain, ensuring that whenever there arises a fruitful opportunity to commit a crime, an ample supply of well-rested and highly trained specialists is available to make use of it."


"Whereas the Nazis had to tattoo identification numbers on their concentration camp victims, Americans now have access to more modern technology, such as implantable radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, biometric and face-recognition systems, satellite surveillance, ubiquitous surveillance cameras and globally networked databases. These can theoretically enable the United States to turn much of the planet into a single large Gulag, or at least to overextend itself and collapse while trying. This trend is currently being exemplified by the State of California, which by itself has the third largest incarceration system in the world. It is going bankrupt, forcing it to parole tens of thousands of inmates. This strategy is encountering diminishing returns, because the recidivism rate is 70 percent, making California law enforcement akin to sport fishing, but in reverse: instead of “catch and release,” it keeps the fish in a fish tank and, for something to do, practices “release and catch.” In spite of massive prison overcrowding, the inmates keep coming back for more: life on the inside may be a bit confining but it is generally carefree, while life on the outside may be exciting for a time but is fraught with difficulties and temptations, and so the inmates struggle to find a life-jail balance."



Orlov, Dmitry (2011-05-31). Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects (Kindle Locations 970-979). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Radical Marijuana's picture

I believe it is crucial to the prison problem that the biggest gangsters are the banksters. The government of the USA has become the biggest criminal organization in the world, which is controlled by the best organized gang of criminals. Therefore, that cascaded down throughout all the lower levels of society, fractally amplifying itself, over and over.

The war on drugs, like the war on terror, were deliberately started by the ruling classes in order to become self-fulfilling prophesies. What actually happened was what was actually intended to happen. The war on drugs was primarily the war against marijuana, which was totally based on huge lies, backed by lots of violence, which fed things like the development of the drug cartels. The war on terror was similarly jump started by the inside job, false flag attacks on 9/11/2001. Nothing has changed in society being controlled by deceits backed by destruction for thousands of years, EXCEPT for the industrial revolutions and more recent technical scientific development of that magnifying the basic social pyramid systems by many orders of magnitude.

America is demonstrating what happens when the biggest bullies control society through their bullshit more and more, for longer and longer. America has developed a corporate culture of organized crime, from the top down, for at least a Century, getting worse at an exponential rate. Furthermore, all of the older problems, with respect to the history of slavery, and the genocide of the natives, never went away, but rather, were merely more of the same thing, even worse, as one goes back in time.

The fundamental problem, in my opinion, is that we are taught to approach all these issues by thinking about them in a way which is almost totally opposite and backwards to reality. The biggest bullies' impossible ideals are intended to cause the opposite to happen in the real world, while those in the controlled opposition who continue to promote those impossible ideals are components of that overall social system.

There is no apparent limit to how much worse this pattern is going to become, as it amplifies and repeats itself fractally, on every level, cascading through to cause ever worse manifestations of what is happening, since America has become almost 100% based on legalized lies, backed by legalized violence, which system can never make those lies become true, but only constantly drive civilization to become crazier and crazier ... with no end in sight that I can currently perceive. The only thing which exceeds the apparently irreconcilable social polarization is the irreparable destruction of the natural world.

There is no way to exaggerate the degrees to which the death controls operated by America are based on the maximum possible deceits, which are backed by destruction, which automatically become more psychotically insane, due to the paradoxical problem that being able to back up dishonesty with violence can never make those lies become true, but nevertheless can result in that society being more and more dominated by those lies, so that society behaves in more madly self-destructive ways.

Similarly, there is no way to exaggerate the degrees to which the debt controls operated in America are based on the maximum possible enforced frauds, which returns to my original point about, that the biggest gangsters are the banksters, who dominated the political processes through applying the methods of organized crime, in order to create the basic systems of DEBT SLAVERY, BACKED BY WARS BASED ON DECEITS.

The previous Century has been the exponential development of the domination of American by organized crime, from the top down, through and through, constantly becoming crazier, and more vicious, as that pattern fractally reproduced itself. Meanwhile, the controlled opposition to that established system of triumphant organized crime (whereby the government became the biggest form of organized crime, controlled by the best organized gang of criminals), fed every other level of organized crime, within that social pyramid system, repeating itself again and again, while its lies were different at every level.

Meanwhile, the controlled opposition groups to the established systems of that runaway fascist plutocracy juggernaut building a fascist police state continue to operate within the same frame of reference of asserting false fundamental dichotomies, and therefore, proposing bogus "solutions" based on impossible ideals, which continue to actually make the opposite happen in the real world, and therefore, AROUND AND AROUND WE WENT IN VICIOUS SPIRALS, TOWARDS SEVERE SOCIAL STORMS.

I would suggest that the only theoretically genuine solutions would take a series of political miracles, primarily in the form of intellectual scientific revolutions, whereby enough people understood how human systems operate as general energy systems. When one does that, then one better understands how and why the principles and methods of organized crime are the best descriptions of how human realities are always organized lies operating robberies.

Indeed, I would say that we should "reinvent collapse." We should go through the looking glass of our Bizarro Mirror World, because the only way to understand the ridiculous runaway American prison system is to understand that the government is the biggest form of organized crime, controlled by the best organized gang of criminals, which must necessarily be the way that the real world actually works, due to how general energy system laws manifest through human civilizations.

Better resolutions of the chronic political problems should be based upon better understanding of those problems, which enabled us to develop better dynamic equilibria between the different systems of organized lies operating robberies. A more scientific view of society would recognize that organized crime is a form of government, while government is a form or organized crime. A more scientific society, that paid attention to rational evidence and logical arguments, would have to bulldoze out of the way all of the biggest bullies' bullshit social stories that dominate things today, in order to start doing things that worked, in deep enough ways to understand how to operate better death controls to back up better debt controls.

The more that we fail to do that, but rather, continue to believe in the biggest bullies' bullshit social stories, such as believe in the banksters' bullshit about the economy, etc., then the worse our responses to the our problems will continue to become. Of course, from a practical political point of view, I do not expect anything else to happen but that runaway madness, wherein absurd state religions, such as the "money" system, and "national security" system, continue to be based on the maximum possible frauds and deceits, fractally reproducing and repeating themselves through and through, in the same ways which get exponentially worse, as they have been doing ...

benb's picture

Great assessment. We might also include the fact that the Global Gansters who control the government also run the heroin (Through the U.S. Army) and cocaine (Through the C.I.A.) so they profit every which way while destroying the United States of America. R.I.P.

samsara's picture

"Nobody in the world loves locking people behind bars as much as Americans do...."

"Nowhere do corporations make as much money locking people up as in the US."

There, fixed for ya

A Lunatic's picture

We're all prisoners now..........

nmewn's picture

...yes, even the guards who rely on moar meat to order about for their salary & pensions.

Stalin would be proud ;-)


Freewheelin Franklin's picture

All your prisons are belong to us.

RiderOnTheStorm's picture

Obama should close all the prisions and enlist all the prisioners as Boarder Patrol Agents.  My hunch is that most of them would flee into Mexico, thus creating a sort of "equilibrium" with the criminals coming in.

kaiserhoff's picture

That's just fucked up enough to work pretty well in the new normal, and plenty of them would be too stupid to realize they can't swim;)

One And Only's picture

You can go to jail for having a plant. A plant that makes you happy.

What else is there to say?

nmewn's picture


Take something natural & organic, find out what compounds produce the desired affect, chemically reproduce the natural, synthesize it, put it in a bottle, mark it up 500%.

And call it aspirin ;-)

kaiserhoff's picture

But are you making the plant happy, and do you remember to call in the morning?

nmewn's picture

Did you know that in certain regions of Mexico you do not speak & point at squash or it will die?

No, I'm being serious.

This chick that works with my wife married a Mex. She's old school southern and she did it in the home garden. The guy freaked out "Don't do that!"

Two days later, its dead...then she

I told my wife he poisoned it to make his point...the three of them aren't so sure but I am.

Kinda ;-)

kaiserhoff's picture

The more I know about cultural diversity,

  the more I like dawgs.

KCMLO's picture

The US Pri$on fixation can yield some pretty strange bedfellows though.  For example, take drug legalization.  It has allowed cops, jailors, judges, and drug dealers to all come together and try to stop it.

max2205's picture

30% are illegals.... Soon to become citizens.....take that one off your stupid fucking list

mc888's picture

ship 'em all to afghanistan, one-way. "Here's your complimentary Snickers bar and AK-47. Have a nice life!"

Postal's picture

What did Afghanistan ever do to deserve that kind of treatment?

Againstthelie's picture

Democracy. The land of the free...