The organization has published some startling statistics that show just how critical a problem the country’s incarceration rate has become.
Funded by a $100 million investment from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Safety and Justice Challenge was created to reduce over-incarceration in the United States. The organization has published some startling statistics that show just how critical a problem the country’s incarceration rate has become.
American’s Prison Overpopulation Problem
The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country on earth. In total, the U.S. makes up just 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it is home to a staggering 25 percent of the world’s prison population. This means that for every 100,000 people in the country, 716 of them are in prison.
Furthermore, victimization rates — meaning the number of people who are victims of crimes — are the same in the United States as they are in the majority of European countries. Yet the U.S. imprisons a disproportionately high number of people compared to every other country in the world.
As the Washington Post reports, criminal justice experts say that the United States’ system of criminal justice fees is partly to blame for such high incarceration rates. Unlike most other industrialized nations, the U.S. has a for-profit criminal justice system that allows judges to issue arrest warrants for people who can’t afford to pay their court fees. American courts also impose fines on defendants who fail to appear in court.
Safety and Justice Challenge Statistics
The dismal state of incarceration in the United States is further highlighted by compelling statistics from the Safety and Justice Challenge.
- There are 12 million jail admissions each year in the U.S.
- The number of annual jail admissions in the U.S. is equivalent to the populations of New York City and Los Angeles combined.
- 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women admitted to jail suffer from a serious mental illness.
- The rate of mental illness among the U.S. prison population is four to six times higher that of the general population.
- Nearly 75 percent of people convicted of crimes are nonviolent offenders imprisoned for traffic, property, or public order crimes.
- African-Americans are jailed at four times the rate of white Americans.
- Between 1982 and 2011, local spending on incarceration ballooned by 235 percent.
- The United States spends $22.2 billion each year on incarceration.
- Local jails in the U.S. hold an average of 731,000 people every day.
The Fight to Lower the U.S. Prison Population
Data shows that crime rates have dropped steadily over the past few decades and now sit at levels comparable to those in the 1970s. Despite the nation getting safer, prison population rates continue to climb. Advocates of lowering the incarceration rate say that one of the easiest ways to address the prison overcrowding problem is to change harsh sentencing laws that imprison people for nonviolent crimes.
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