Incarceration in the United States
Incarceration in the United States is one of the main forms of punishment, rehabilitation, or both for the commission of felony and other offenses. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and the second-highest per-capita incarceration rate, behind Seychelles (which in 2014 had a total prison population of 735 out of a population of around 92,000). In 2013 in the US, there were 698 people incarcerated per 100,000 population. This is the U.S. incarceration rate for adults or people tried as adults.
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in US federal and state prisons, and county jails in 2013 – about 0.91% of adults (1 in 110) in the U.S. resident population. Additionally, 4,751,400 adults in 2013 (1 in 51) were on probation or on parole. In total, 6,899,000 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2013 – about 2.8% of adults (1 in 35) in the U.S. resident population. In 2014, the total number of persons in the adult correctional systems had fallen to 6,851,000 persons, approximately 52,200 fewer offenders than at the year end of 2013 as reported by the BJS. About 1 in 36 adults (or 2.8% of adults in the US) was under some form of correctional supervision – the lowest rate since 1996. On average the correctional population has declined by 1.0% since 2007; while this continued to stay true in 2014 the number of incarcerated adults slightly increased in 2014.
In addition, there were 54,148 juveniles in juvenile detention in 2013.
Although debtor's prisons no longer exist in the United States, residents of some U.S. states can still be incarcerated for debt as of 2016. The Vera Institute of Justice reported in 2015 that jails throughout the United States have become warehouses for the poor, the mentally ill and those suffering from addiction as such individuals lack the financial means or mental capacity to post bail.
According to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report, "tough-on-crime" laws adopted since the 1980s, have filled U.S. prisons with mostly nonviolent offenders. This policy failed to rehabilitate prisoners and many were worse on release than before incarceration. Rehabilitation programs for offenders can be more cost effective than prison. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, falling crime rates cannot be ascribed to mass incarceration.
In 1841, Dorothea Dix discovered that prison conditions were, in her opinion, inhumane. Prisoners were chained naked, whipped with rods. Others, criminally insane, were caged, or placed in cellars, or closets. She insisted on changes throughout the rest of her life. While focusing on the insane, her comments also resulted in changes for other inmates.
Persons who violate state laws and/or territorial laws generally are placed in state or territorial prisons, while those who violate United States federal law are generally placed in federal prisons operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), an agency of the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ). The BOP also houses adult felons convicted of violating District of Columbia laws due to the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997.
| US and territories.
Adult and juvenile inmates.
| Number of|
|Federal and state prisons||1,518,559|
|Juvenile facilities (2007)||86,927|
|Jails in tribal territories||2,135|
At the beginning of 2008, more than 1 in 100 adults in the United States were in prison or jail. Total US incarceration peaked in 2008. Total correctional population (prison, jail, probation, parole) peaked in 2007. If all prisoners are counted (including juvenile, territorial, ICE, Indian country, and military), then in 2008 the US had around 24.7% of the world's 9.8 million prisoners.
In 2008, approximately one in every 31 adults (7.3 million) in the United States was either behind bars or being monitored (probation and parole). In recent decades the U.S. has experienced a surge in its prison population, quadrupling since 1980, partially as a result of mandatory sentencing that came about during the "War on Drugs."
As of the 2007. Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (CJRP), conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 86,927 youths were held in juvenile facilities.
As of 2009, the three states with the lowest ratios of imprisoned people per 100,000 population are Maine (150 per 100,000), Minnesota (189 per 100,000), and New Hampshire (206 per 100,000). The three states with the highest ratio are Louisiana (881 per 100,000), Mississippi (702 per 100,000) and Oklahoma (657 per 100,000).
A 2005 report estimated that 27% of federal prison inmates are noncitizens, convicted of crimes while in the country legally or illegally. However, federal prison inmates account for six percent of the total incarcerated population; noncitizen populations in state and local prisons are more difficult to establish.
Many legislatures continually have reduced discretion of judges in both the sentencing process and the determination of when the conditions of a sentence have been satisfied. Determinate sentencing, use of mandatory minimums, and guidelines-based sentencing continue to remove the human element from sentencing, such as the prerogative of the judge to consider the mitigating or extenuating circumstances of a crime to determine the appropriate length of the incarceration. As the consequence of "three strikes laws," the increase in the duration of incarceration in the last decade was most pronounced in the case of life prison sentences, which increased by 83% between 1992 and 2003 while violent crimes fell in the same period.
Violent and nonviolent crime
7.9% of sentenced prisoners in federal prisons on September 30, 2009 were in for violent crimes. 52.4% of sentenced prisoners in state prisons at year end 2008 were in for violent crimes. 21.6% of convicted inmates in jails in 2002 (latest available data by type of offense) were in for violent crimes. Among unconvicted inmates in jails in 2002, 34% had a violent offense as the most serious charge. 41% percent of convicted and unconvicted jail inmates in 2002 had a current or prior violent offense; 46% were nonviolent recidivists.
From 2000 to 2008, the state prison population increased by 159,200 prisoners, and violent offenders accounted for 60% of this increase. The number of drug offenders in state prisons declined by 12,400 over this period. Furthermore, while the number of sentenced violent offenders in state prison increased from 2000 through 2008, the expected length of stays for these offenders declined slightly during this period.
Violent crime was not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States from 1980 to 2003. Violent crime rates had been relatively constant or declining over those decades. The prison population was increased primarily by public policy changes causing more prison sentences and lengthening time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, "three strikes" laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release. 49 percent of sentenced state inmates were held for violent offenses. Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national "War on Drugs." The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges. In 2011, 55.6% of the 1,131,210 sentenced prisoners in state prisons were being held for violent crimes (this number excludes the 200,966 prisoners being held due parole violations, of which 39.6% were re-incarcerated for a subsequent violent crime). Also in 2011, 3.7% of the state prison population consisted of prisoners whose highest conviction was for drug possession (again excluding those incarcerated for parole violations of which 6.0% were re-incarcerated for a subsequent act of drug possession).
A 2002 study survey, showed that among nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and 51.8% were back in prison. However, the study found no evidence that spending more time in prison raises the recidivism rate, and found that those serving the longest time, 61 months or more, had a slightly lower re-arrest rate (54.2%) than every other category of prisoners. This is most likely explained by the older average age of those released with the longest sentences, and the study shows a strong negative correlation between recidivism and age upon release.
Comparison with other countries
The United States has the highest prison population (2,220,300 in 2013). It has the second highest documented incarceration rate in the world (698 per 100,000 population in 2013), behind the tiny country, Seychelles, which has the highest rate (899 per 100,000 in 2014). While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners.
Comparing other English-speaking developed countries, the incarceration rate of Canada is 106 per 100,000 (as of 2014), England and Wales is 148 per 100,000 (as of 2015), and Australia is 151 per 100,000 (as of 2015). Comparing other developed countries, the rate of Spain is 141 per 100,000 (as of 2015), Greece is 120 per 100,000 (as of 2013), Norway is 71 per 100,000 (as of 2015), Netherlands is 75 per 100,000 (as of 2013), and Japan is 49 per 100,000 (as of 2014).
A 2008 New York Times article, said that "it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher."
The U.S. incarceration rate peaked in 2008 when about 1 in 100 US adults was behind bars. This incarceration rate exceeded the average incarceration levels in the Soviet Union during the existence of the Gulag system, when the Soviet Union's population reached 168 million, and 1.2 to 1.5 million people were in the Gulag prison camps and colonies (i.e. about 0.8 imprisoned per 100 USSR residents, according to numbers from Anne Applebaum and Steven Rosefielde). The Soviet Union's incarceration rates from 1934 to 1953 were historically the world's highest for a modern age country, according to The Gulag Archipelago book (1973) by Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In The New Yorker article The Caging of America (2012), Adam Gopnik writes: "Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2013 non-Hispanic black males accounted for 37% of the total male prison population, non-Hispanic whites 32%, and Hispanic males 22%. White females compromised 49% of the prison population in comparison to black females who accounted for 22% of the female population. However the imprisonment rate for black females (113 per 100,000) was 2x the rate for white females (51 per 100,000. Out of all ethnic groups, native Black Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, and American Indians have some of the highest rates of incarceration. Though, of these groups, the black population is the largest, and therefore make up a large portion of those incarcerated in US prisons and jails.
Hispanics (of all races) were 20.6% of the total jail and prison population in 2009. Hispanics comprised 16.3% of the US population according to the 2010 US census. The Northeast has the highest incarceration rates of Hispanics in the nation. Connecticut has the highest Hispanic-to-White incarceration ratio with 6.6 Hispanic males for every white male. The National Average Hispanic-to-White incarceration ratio is 1.8. Other states with high Hispanic-to-White incarcerations include Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.
As the Hispanic community is not monolithic, variations are seen in incarceration rates. Among the Hispanic community, Puerto Ricans have the highest incarceration rate. Located primarily in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, they are up to six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, which may explain the higher incarceration rates for Hispanics overall in the Northeast region. Illegal immigrants, usually Mexican nationals, also make up a substantial number of Hispanics incarcerated.
In 2010, adult black non-Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Adult white males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Adult Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. (For female rates see the table below.) Asian Americans have lower incarceration rates than any other racial group, including whites.
Black majority cities have similar crime statistics for blacks as do cities where majority of population is white. For example, white-plurality San Diego has a slightly lower crime rate for blacks than does Atlanta, a city which has black majority in population and city government.
In 2013, by age 18, 30% of black males, 26% of Hispanic males, and 22% of white males have been arrested. By age 23, 49% of black males, 44% of Hispanic males, and 38% of white males have been arrested. According to Antonio Moore in his Huffington Post article, "there are more African American men incarcerated in the U.S. than the total prison populations in India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined." There are only 19 million African American males in the United States, collectively these countries represent over 1.6 billion people.
|2010 adult incarceration rates by race, ethnicity, and sex per 100,000 adult U.S. residents|
In 2013, there were 102,400 adult females in local jails in the United States, and 111,300 adult females in state and federal prisons. Within the US, the rate of female incarceration increased fivefold in a two decade span ending in 2001; the increase occurred because of increased prosecutions and convictions of offenses related to recreational drugs, increases in the severities of offenses, and a lack of community sanctions and treatment for women who violate laws. In the United States, authorities began housing women in correctional facilities separate from men in the 1870s.
In 2013, there were 628,900 adult males in local jails in the United States, and 1,463,500 adult males in state and federal prisons. In a study of sentencing in the United States in 1984, David B. Mustard found that males received 12 percent longer prison terms than females after "controlling for the offense level, criminal history, district, and offense type," and noted that "females receive even shorter sentences relative to men than whites relative to blacks." A later study by Sonja B. Starr found sentences for men to be up to 60% higher when controlling for more variables. Several explanations for this disparity have been offered, including that women have more to lose from incarceration, and that men are the targets of discrimination in sentencing.
Through the juvenile courts and the adult criminal justice system, the United States incarcerates more of its youth than any other country in the world, a reflection of the larger trends in incarceration practices in the United States. This has been a source of controversy for a number of reasons, including the overcrowding and violence in youth detention facilities, the prosecution of youths as adults and the long term consequences of incarceration on the individual's chances for success in adulthood. In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized the United States for about ten judicial abuses, including the mistreatment of juvenile inmates. A UN report published in 2015 criticized the US for being the only nation in the world to sentence juveniles to life imprisonment without parole.
According to federal data from 2011, around 40% of the nation's juvenile inmates are housed in private facilities.
The incarceration of youths has been linked to the effects of family and neighborhood influences. One study found that the "behaviors of family members and neighborhood peers appear to substantially affect the behavior and outcomes of disadvantaged youths".
The percentage of prisoners in federal and state prisons aged 55 and older increased by 33% from 2000 to 2005 while the prison population grew by 8%. The Southern Legislative Conference found that in 16 southern states the elderly prisoner population increased on average by 145% between 1997 and 2007. The growth in the elderly population brought along higher health care costs, most notably seen in the 10% average increase in state prison budgets from 2005 to 2006.
The SLC expects the percentage of elderly prisoners relative to the overall prison population to continue to rise. Ronald Aday, a professor of aging studies at Middle Tennessee State University and author of Aging Prisoners: Crisis in American Corrections, concurs. One out of six prisoners in California is serving a life sentence. Aday predicts that by 2020 16% percent of those serving life sentences will be elderly.
State governments pay all of their inmates' housing costs which significantly increase as prisoners age. Inmates are unable to apply for Medicare and Medicaid. Most Departments of Correction report spending more than 10 percent of the annual budget on elderly care.
The American Civil Liberties Union published a report in 2012 which asserts that the elderly prison population has climbed 1300% since the 1980s, with 125,000 inmates aged 55 or older now incarcerated.
Transgender adults and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) youth are disproportionately more likely than the general population to come into contact with the criminal justice system. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 16 percent of transgender adults have been in prison and/or jail, compared to 2.7 percent of all adults. It has also been found that 13-15 percent of youth in detention identify as LGBT, whereas an estimated 4-8 percent of the general youth population identify as such.
The reasons behind these disproportionate numbers are multi-faceted and complex. Poverty, homelessness, profiling by law enforcement, and imprisonment are disproportionately experienced by transgender and gender non-conforming people. LGBT youth not only experience these same challenges, but many also live in homes unwelcoming to their identities. This often results in LGBT youth running away and/or engaging in criminal activities, such as the drug trade, sex work, and/or theft, which places them at higher risk for arrest. Because of discriminatory practices and limited access to resources, transgender adults are also more likely to engage in criminal activities to be able to pay for housing, health care, and other basic needs.
LGBT people in jail and prison are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment by other inmates and staff. This mistreatment includes solitary confinement (which may be described as "protective custody"), physical and sexual violence, verbal abuse, and denial of medical care and other services. According to the National Inmate Survey, in 2011-12, 40 percent of transgender inmates reported sexual victimization compared to 4 percent of all inmates.
In the United States, the percentage of inmates with mental illness has been steadily increasing, with rates more than quadrupling from 1998 to 2006. Many have attributed this trend to the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill persons beginning in the 1960s, when mental hospitals across the country began closing their doors. However, other researchers indicate that "there is no evidence for the basic criminalization premise that decreased psychiatric services explain the disproportionate risk of incarceration for individuals with mental illness".
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over half of all prisoners in 2005 had experienced mental illness as identified by "a recent history or symptoms of a mental health problem"; of this population, jail inmates experienced the highest rates of symptoms of mental illness at 60 percent, followed by 49 percent of state prisoners and 40 percent of federal prisoners. Not only do people with recent histories of mental illness end up incarcerated, but many who have no history of mental illness end up developing symptoms while in prison. In 2006, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that a quarter of state prisoners had a history of mental illness, whereas 3 in 10 state prisoners had developed symptoms of mental illness since becoming incarcerated with no recent history of mental illness.
According to Human Rights Watch, one of the contributing factors to the disproportionate rates of mental illness in prisons and jails is the increased use of solitary confinement, for which "socially and psychologically meaningful contact is reduced to the absolute minimum, to a point that is insufficient for most detainees to remain mentally well functioning". Another factor to be considered is that most inmates do not get the mental health services that they need while incarcerated. Due to limited funding, prisons are not able to provide a full range of mental health services and thus are typically limited to inconsistent administration of psychotropic medication, or no psychiatric services at all. Human Rights Watch also reports that corrections officers routinely use excessive violence against mentally ill inmates for nonthreatening behaviors related to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Inmates are often shocked, shackled and pepper sprayed.
Although many argue that prisons have become the facilities for the mentally ill, very few crimes point directly to symptoms of mental illness as their sole cause. Despite the disproportionate representation of mentally ill persons in prison, a study by American Psychological Association indicates that only 7.5 percent of crimes committed were found to be directly related to mental illness. However, some advocates argue that many incarcerations of mentally ill persons could have been avoided if they had been given proper treatment, which would be a much less costly alternative to incarceration.
Mental illness rarely stands alone when analyzing the risk factors associated with incarceration and recidivism rates. The American Psychological Association recommends a holistic approach to reducing recidivism rates among offenders by providing "cognitive– behavioral treatment focused on criminal cognition" or " services that target variable risk factors for high-risk offenders" due to the numerous intersecting risk factors experienced by mentally ill and non-mentally ill offenders alike.
To prevent the recidivism of individuals with mental illness, a variety of programs are in place that are based on criminal justice or mental health intervention models. Programs modeled after criminal justice strategies include diversion programs, mental health courts, specialty mental health probation or parole, and jail aftercare/prison re-entry. Programs modeled after mental health interventions include forensic assertive community treatment and forensic intensive case management. It is argued that the wide diversity of these program interventions points to a lack of clarity on which specific program components are most effective in reducing recidivism rates among individuals with mental illness.
The BOP receives all prisoner transfer treaty inmates sent from foreign countries, even if their crimes would have been, if committed in the United States, tried in state, DC, or territorial courts. Non-US citizens incarcerated in federal and state prisons are eligible to be transferred to their home countries if they qualify.
In various, but not all, states' department of corrections, inmates reside in different facilities that vary by security level, especially in security measures, administration of inmates, type of housing, and weapons and tactics used by corrections officers. The federal government's Bureau of Prisons uses a numbered scale from one to five to represent the security level. Level five is the most secure, while level one is the least. State prison systems operate similar systems. California, for example, classifies its facilities from Reception Center through Levels I to V (minimum to maximum security) to specialized high security units (all considered Level V) including Security Housing Unit (SHU)—California's version of supermax—and related units. As a general rule, county jails, detention centers, and reception centers, where new commitments are first held while either awaiting trial or before being transferred to "mainline" institutions to serve out their sentences, operate at a relatively high level of security, usually close security or higher.
Supermax Prison facilities provide the highest level of prison security. These units hold those considered the most dangerous inmates, as well as inmates that have been deemed too high-profile or too great a national security risk for a normal prison. These include inmates who have committed assaults, murders, or other serious violations in less secure facilities, and inmates known to be or accused of being prison gang members. Most states have either a supermax section of a prison facility or an entire prison facility designated as a supermax. The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons operates a federal supermax, A.D.X. Florence, located in Florence, Colorado, also known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" and widely considered to be perhaps the most secure prison in the United States. A.D.X. Florence has a standard supermax section where assaultive, violent, and gang-related inmates are kept under normal supermax conditions of 23-hour confinement and abridged amenities. A.D.X. Florence is considered to be of a security level above that of all other prisons in the United States, at least in the "ideological" ultramax part of it, which features permanent, 24-hour solitary confinement with rare human contacts or opportunity to earn better conditions through good behavior.
In a maximum security prison or area (called high security in the federal system), all prisoners have individual cells with sliding doors controlled from a secure remote control station. Prisoners are allowed out of their cells one out of twenty four hours (one hour and 30 minutes for prisoners in California). When out of their cells, prisoners remain in the cell block or an exterior cage. Movement out of the cell block or "pod" is tightly restricted using restraints and escorts by correctional officers.
Under close security, prisoners usually have one- or two-person cells operated from a remote control station. Each cell has its own toilet and sink. Inmates may leave their cells for work assignments or correctional programs and otherwise may be allowed in a common area in the cellblock or an exercise yard. The fences are generally double fences with watchtowers housing armed guards, plus often a third, lethal-current electric fence in the middle.
Prisoners that fall into the medium security group may sleep in cells, but share them two and two, and use bunk beds with lockers to store their possessions. They may have communal showers, toilets and sinks. Cells are locked at night with one or more correctional officers supervising. There is less supervision over the internal movements of prisoners. The perimeter is generally double fenced and regularly patrolled.
Prisoners in minimum security facilities are considered to pose little physical risk to the public and are mainly non-violent "white collar criminals". Minimum security prisoners live in less-secure dormitories, which are regularly patrolled by correctional officers. As in medium security facilities, they have communal showers, toilets, and sinks. A minimum-security facility generally has a single fence that is watched, but not patrolled, by armed guards. At facilities in very remote and rural areas, there may be no fence at all. Prisoners may often work on community projects, such as roadside litter cleanup with the state department of transportation or wilderness conservation. Many minimum security facilities are small camps located in or near military bases, larger prisons (outside the security perimeter) or other government institutions to provide a convenient supply of convict labor to the institution. Many states allow persons in minimum-security facilities access to the Internet.
Research indicates that inmates who maintain contact with family and friends in the outside world are less likely to be convicted of further crimes and usually have an easier reintegration period back into society. Many institutions encourage friends and families to send letters, especially when they are unable to visit regularly. However, guidelines exist as to what constitutes acceptable mail, and these policies are strictly enforced.
Mail sent to inmates in violation of prison policies can result in sanctions such as loss of imprisonment time reduced for good behavior. Most Department of Corrections websites provide detailed information regarding mail policies. These rules can even vary within a single prison depending on which part of the prison an inmate is housed. For example, death row and maximum security inmates are usually under stricter mail guidelines for security reasons.
There have been several notable challenges to prison corresponding services. The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) stated that effective June 1, 2007, inmates would be prohibited from using pen pal websites, citing concerns that inmates were using them to solicit money and defraud the public. Service providers such as WriteAPrisoner.com, together with the ACLU, plan to challenge the ban in Federal Court. Similar bans on an inmate's rights or a website's right to post such information has been ruled unconstitutional in other courts, citing First Amendment freedoms. Some faith-based initiatives promote the positive effects of correspondence on inmates, and some have made efforts to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society through job placement assistance. Inmates' ability to mail letters to other inmates has been limited by the courts. Inmate correspondence with members of society is typically encouraged because of the positive impact it can have on inmates, albeit under the guidelines of each institution and availability of letter writers.
The non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch claims that prisoners and detainees face "abusive, degrading and dangerous" conditions within local, state and federal facilities, including those operated by for-profit contractors. The organization also raised concerns with prisoner rape and medical care for inmates. In a survey of 1,788 male inmates in Midwestern prisons by Prison Journal, about 21% responded they had been coerced or pressured into sexual activity during their incarceration, and 7% that they had been raped in their current facility.
In August 2003, a Harper's article by Wil S. Hylton estimated that "somewhere between 20 and 40% of American prisoners are, at this very moment, infected with hepatitis C". Prisons may outsource medical care to private companies such as Correctional Medical Services (now Corizon) that, according to Hylton's research, try to minimize the amount of care given to prisoners in order to maximize profits. After the privatization of healthcare in Arizona's prisons, medical spending fell by 30 million dollars and staffing was greatly reduced. Some 50 prisoners died in custody in the first 8 months of 2013, compared to 37 for the preceding two years combined.
The poor quality of food provided to inmates has become an issue, as over the last decade corrections officials looking to cut costs have been outsourcing food services to private, for profit corporations such as Aramark, A'Viands Food & Services Management, and ABL Management. A prison riot in Kentucky has been blamed on the low quality of food Aramark provided to inmates.
Also identified as an issue within the prison system is gang violence, because many gang members retain their gang identity and affiliations when imprisoned. Segregation of identified gang members from the general population of inmates, with different gangs being housed in separate units often results in the imprisonment of these gang members with their friends and criminal cohorts. Some feel this has the effect of turning prisons into "institutions of higher criminal learning."
Many prisons in the United States are overcrowded. For example, California's 33 prisons have a total capacity of 100,000, but they hold 170,000 inmates. Many prisons in California and around the country are forced to turn old gymnasiums and classrooms into huge bunkhouses for inmates. They do this by placing hundreds of bunk beds next to one another, in these gyms, without any type of barriers to keep inmates separated. In California, the inadequate security engendered by this situation, coupled with insufficient staffing levels, have led to increased violence and a prison health system that causes one death a week. This situation has led the courts to order California to release 27% of the current prison population, citing the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The three-judge court considering requests by the Plata v. Schwarzenegger and Coleman v. Schwarzenegger courts found California's prisons have become criminogenic as a result of prison overcrowding.
According to a Supreme Court ruling issued on May 23, 2011, California — which has the highest overcrowding rate of any prison system in the country — must alleviate overcrowding in the state's prisons, reducing the prisoner population by 30,000 over the next two years.
Solitary confinement is widely used in US prisons, yet it is underreported by most states, while some don't report it at all. Isolation of prisoners has been condemned by the UN in 2011 as a form of torture. At over 80,000 at any given time, the US has more prisoners confined in isolation than any other country in the world. In Louisiana, with 843 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, there have been prisoners, such as the Angola Three, held for as long as forty years in isolation.
As of September 2013, condoms for prisoners are only available in the U.S. State of Vermont (on September 17, 2013, the California Senate approved a bill for condom distribution inside the state's prisons, but the bill was not yet law at the time of approval).
In September 2016, a group of corrections officers at Holman Correctional Facility have gone on strike over safety concerns and overcrowding. Prisoners refer to the facility as a "slaughterhouse" as stabbings are a routine occurrence.
Prior to the 1980s, private prisons did not exist in the U.S. In the 1980s, as a result of the War on Drugs by the Reagan Administration, the number of people incarcerated rose. This created a demand for more prison space. The result was the development of privatization and the for-profit prison industry.
A 1998 study, was performed using three comparable Louisiana medium security prisons, two of which were privately run by different corporations and the third was publicly run. The data from this study suggests the privately run prisons operated more cost-effectively without sacrificing the safety of inmates and staff. The study concluded that the privately run prisons had a lower cost per inmate, fewer critical incidents, a safer environment for employees and inmates, and a higher proportional rate of inmates who complete basic education, literacy, and vocational training courses. However, the publicly run prison outperformed the privately run prisons in areas such as fewer escape attempts, controlling substance abuse through testing, offered a wider range of educational and vocational courses, and provided a broader range of treatment, recreation, social services, and rehabilitative services.
According to Marie Gottschalk, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, studies that claim private prisons are cheaper fail to "take into account the fundamental differences between private and public facilities," and that the prison industry "engages in a lot of cherry-picking and cost-shifting to maintain the illusion that the private sector does it better for less." The American Civil Liberties Union reported in 2013 that numerous studies indicate private jails are actually filthier, more violent, less accountable, and possibly more costly than their public counterparts. The ACLU stated that the for-profit prison industry is "a major contributor to bloated state budgets and mass incarceration – not a part of any viable solution to these urgent problems." The primary reason Louisiana is the prison capital of the world is because of the for-profit prison industry. According to The Times-Picayune, "a majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt."
In Mississippi, a 2013 Bloomberg report, states that assault rates in private facilities were three times higher on average than in their public counterparts. In 2012, the for-profit Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility was the most violent prison in the state, and had 27 assaults per 100 offenders. A federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at the privately run East Mississippi Correctional Facility in 2013 claims the conditions there are "hyper-violent," "barbaric" and "chaotic," with gangs routinely beating and exploiting mentally ill inmates who are denied medical care by prison staff. A May 2012 riot in the Corrections Corporation of America-run Adams County Correctional Facility, also in Mississippi, left one corrections officer dead and dozens injured. Similar riots have occurred in privatized facilities in Idaho, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Florida, California and Texas.
Sociologist John L. Campbell of Dartmouth College claims that private prisons in the U.S. have become "a lucrative business." Between 1990 and 2000, the number of private facilities grew from five to 100, operated by nearly 20 private firms. Over the same time period the stock price of the industry leader, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), climbed from $8 a share to $30. According to journalist Matt Taibbi, major investors in the prison industry include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, General Electric and The Vanguard Group. The aforementioned Bloomberg report also notes that in the past decade the number of inmates in for-profit prisons throughout the U.S. rose 44 percent.
Controversy has surrounded the privatization of prisons with the exposure of the genesis of the landmark Arizona SB 1070 law. This law was written by Arizona State Congressman Russell Pearce and the CCA at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Both CCA and GEO Group, the two largest operators of private facilities, have been contributors to ALEC, which lobbies for policies that would increase incarceration, such as three-strike laws and "truth-in-sentencing" legislation. In face, in the early 1990s, when CCA was co-chair of ALEC, it co-sponsored (with the National Rifle Association) the so-called "truth-in-sentencing" and "three-strikes-you're-out" laws. Truth-in-sentencing called for all violent offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release; three strikes called for mandatory life imprisonment for a third felony conviction. Some prison officers unions in publicly run facilities such as California Correctional Peace Officers Association have, in the past, also supported measures such as three-strike laws. Such laws increased the prison population.
In addition to CCA and GEO Group, companies operating in the private prison business include Management and Training Corporation, and Community Education Centers. The GEO Group was formerly known as the Wackenhut Corrections division. It includes the former Correctional Services Corporation and Cornell Companies, which were purchased by GEO in 2005 and 2010. Such companies often sign contracts with states obliging them to fill prison beds or reimburse them for those that go unused.
Private companies which provide services to prisons combine in the American Correctional Association, a 501(c)3 which advocates legislation favorable to the industry. Such private companies comprise what has been termed the prison–industrial complex. An example of this phenomenon would be the Kids for cash scandal, in which two judges in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, were receiving judicial kickbacks for sending youths, convicted of minor crimes, to a privatized, for-profit juvenile facility run by the Mid Atlantic Youth Service Corporation.
The industry is aware of what reduced crime rates could mean to their bottom line. This from the CCA's SEC report in 2010:
Our growth … depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates …[R]eductions in crime rates … could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.
Marie Gottschalk claims that while private prison companies and other economic interests were not the primary drivers of mass incarceration originally, they do much to sustain it today. The private prison industry has successfully lobbied for changes that increase the profit of their employers. They have opposed measures that would bring reduced sentencing or shorter prison terms. The private prison industry has been accused of being at least partly responsible for America's high rates of incarceration.
According to The Corrections Yearbook, 2000, the average annual starting salary for public corrections officers was $23,002, compared to $17,628 for private prison guards. The poor pay is a likely factor in the high turnover rate in private prisons, at 52.2 percent compared to 16 percent in public facilities.
In September 2015, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the "Justice Is Not for Sale" Act, which would prohibit the United States government at federal, state and local levels from contracting with private firms to provide and/or operate detention facilities within two years.
An August 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Justice asserts that privately operated federal facilities are less safe, less secure and more punitive than other federal prisons. Shortly after this report was published, the DoJ announced it will stop using private prisons.
About 18% of eligible prisoners held in federal prisons are employed by UNICOR and are paid less than $1.25 an hour. Prisons have gradually become a source of low-wage labor for corporations seeking to outsource work to inmates. Corporations that utilize prison labor include Walmart, Eddie Bauer, Victoria's Secret, Microsoft, Starbucks, McDonald's, Nintendo, Chevron Corporation, Bank of America, Koch Industries, Boeing and Costco Wholesale.
It is estimated that 1 in 9 state government employees works in corrections. As the overall U.S. prison population declined in 2010, states are closing prisons. For instance, Virginia has removed 11 prisons since 2009. Like other small towns, Boydton in Virginia has to contend with unemployment woes resulting from the closure of the Mecklenburg Correctional Center.
Starting in September 2016, large, coordinated prison strikes took place place in 11 states, with inmates claiming they are subjected to poor sanitary conditions and jobs that amount to forced labor. Organizers, which include the Industrial Workers of the World labor union, assert it is the largest prison strike in U.S. history.
Judicial, police, and corrections costs totaled $212 billion in 2011 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2007, around $74 billion was spent on corrections according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In 2014, among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the average cost of incarceration for federal inmates in fiscal year 2014 was $30,619.85. The average annual cost to confine an inmate in a residential re-entry center was $28,999.25.
State prisons averaged $31,286 per inmate in 2010 according to a Vera Institute of Justice study. It ranged from $14,603 in Kentucky to $60,076 in New York.
Housing the approximately 500,000 people in jail in the US awaiting trial who cannot afford bail costs $9 billion a year. Most jail inmates are petty, nonviolent offenders. Twenty years ago most nonviolent defendants were released on their own recognizance (trusted to show up at trial). Now most are given bail, and most pay a bail bondsman to afford it. 62% of local jail inmates are awaiting trial.
Bondsmen have lobbied to cut back local pretrial programs from Texas to California, pushed for legislation in four states limiting pretrial's resources, and lobbied Congress so that they won't have to pay the bond if the defendant commits a new crime. Behind them, the bondsmen have powerful special interest group and millions of dollars. Pretrial release agencies have a smattering of public employees and the remnants of their once-thriving programs.— National Public Radio, January 22, 2010.
To ease jail overcrowding over 10 counties every year consider building new jails. As an example Lubbock County, Texas has decided to build a $110 million megajail to ease jail overcrowding. Jail costs an average of $60 a day nationally. In Broward County, Florida supervised pretrial release costs about $7 a day per person while jail costs $115 a day. The jail system costs a quarter of every county tax dollar in Broward County, and is the single largest expense to the county taxpayer.
The National Association of State Budget Officers reports: "In fiscal 2009, corrections spending represented 3.4 percent of total state spending and 7.2 percent of general fund spending." They also report: "Some states exclude certain items when reporting corrections expenditures. Twenty-one states wholly or partially excluded juvenile delinquency counseling from their corrections figures and fifteen states wholly or partially excluded spending on juvenile institutions. Seventeen states wholly or partially excluded spending on drug abuse rehabilitation centers and forty-one states wholly or partially excluded spending on institutions for the criminally insane. Twenty-two states wholly or partially excluded aid to local governments for jails. For details, see Table 36."
According to a 2016 study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the true cost of incarceration exceeds $1 trillion, with half of that falling on the families, children and communities of those incarcerated.
Effects of incarceration
Within three years of being released, 67% of ex-prisoners re-offend and 52% are re-incarcerated, according to a study published in 1994. The rate of recidivism is so high in the United States that most inmates who enter the system are likely to reenter within a year of their release. Former inmate Wenona Thompson argues "I realized that I became part of a cycle, a system, that looked forward to seeing me there. And I was aware that...I would be one of those people who fill up their prisons".
In 1995, the government allocated $5.1 billion for new prison space. Every $100 million spent in construction costs $53 million per year in finance and operational costs over the next three decades. Taxpayers spend $60 billion a year for prisons. In 2005, it cost an average of $23,876 a year to house a prisoner. It takes about $30,000 per year per person to provide drug rehabilitation treatment to inmates. By contrast, the cost of drug rehabilitation treatment outside of a prison costs about $8,000 per year per person.
American journalist Reihan Salam has argued in National Review Online that past a certain point in which more of the population have been or are currently in prison, incarceration becomes more destigmatized and crime would actually increase (akin to the Laffer curve). He argues that the U.S. "appear[s] to be past that point" with its incarceration rate.
The effects of such high incarceration rates are also shown in other ways. For example, a woman who has been recently released from prison is ineligible for welfare in most states. She is not eligible for subsidized housing, and for Section 8 she has to wait two years before she can apply. In addition to finding housing, she also has to find employment, but most likely she can not find a job because she has a criminal record so no one wants to hire her. Essentially, a woman who has been recently released from prison comes into a society that is not prepared structurally or emotionally to welcome her back.
Marc Mauer, assistant director of the non-profit group Sentencing Project, has remarked that "[...] what we don't see are the ripple effects of what they mean: For the generation of black children today, there's almost an inevitable aspect of going to prison". For every mother that is incarcerated in the United States there are about another ten people (children, grandparents, community, etc.) that are directly affected. Children are becoming more affected by having a parent in prison. Having an incarcerated parent affects children in "separation experiences and associated risks". In a recent study, approximately 75% of the children reported symptoms including "depression, difficulty sleeping, concentration problems, and flashbacks about their mothers' crimes or arrests".
In The New Jim Crow in 2011, legal scholar and advocate Michelle Alexander contended that the U.S. incarceration system worked to bar black men from voting. She wrote "there are more African Americans under correctional control -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began". Alexander's work has drawn increased attention through 2011 and into 2013.
Yale Law Professor, and opponent of mass incarceration James Forman Jr. has countered that 1) African Americans, as represented by such cities as the District of Columbia, have generally supported tough on crime policies. 2) There appears to be a connection between drugs and violent crimes, the discussion of which, he says, New Jim Crow theorists have avoided. 3) New theorists have overlooked class as a factor in incarceration. Blacks with advanced degrees have fewer convictions. Blacks without advanced education have more.
Mass incarceration cannot be remedied in a short length of time, because each prisoner serves a separate sentence, the average length of sentences has risen over the last 35 years and public support for prison reform is still relatively low. Decriminalizing drugs has been suggested by libertarians, but remains a remote political option. Additional parole and probation can be facilitated with enhanced electronic monitoring, though monitoring is expensive. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld prisoner releases to relieve California's unconstitutional prison conditions in Brown v. Plata, long-standing litigation wherein the federal courts intervened as they have done in most states through the years.
There is greater indication that education in prison helps prevent reincarceration.
|“||Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.||”|
|— Adam Gopnik|
High rates of incarceration may be due to sentence length, which is further driven by many other factors. Shorter sentences may even diminish the criminal culture by possibly reducing re-arrest rates for first-time convicts. The U.S. Congress has ordered federal judges to make imprisonment decisions "recognizing that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation."
Critics have lambasted the United States for incarcerating a large number of non-violent and victimless offenders; half of all persons incarcerated under state jurisdiction are for non-violent offenses, and 20% are incarcerated for drug offenses (in state prisons; federal prison percentages are higher). "Human Rights Watch believes the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States wreaks havoc on individuals, families and communities, and saps the strength of the nation as a whole." The population of inmates housed in prisons and jails in the United States exceeds 2 million, with the per capita incarceration population higher than that officially reported by any other country. Criminal justice policy in the United States has also been criticized for a number of other reasons. In the 2014 book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, journalist Matt Taibbi argues that the expanding disparity of wealth and the increasing criminalization of those in poverty have culminated in the U.S. having the largest prison population "in the history of human civilization." The scholars Michael Meranze and Marie Gottschalk contend that the massive "carceral state" extends far beyond prisons, and distorts democracy, degrades society, and obstructs meaningful discourse on criminal punishment.
Some scholars have linked the ascent of neoliberal, free market ideology in the late 1970s to mass incarceration. Sociologist Loïc Wacquant postulates the expansive prison system has become a political institution designed to deal with an urban crisis created by welfare state retrenchment and economic deregulation, and that this "overgrown and intrusive penal state" is "deeply injurious to the ideals of democratic citizenship." Academic and activist Angela Davis argues that prisons in the U.S. have "become venues of profit as well as punishment;" as mass incarceration has increased, the prison system has become more about economic factors than criminality. Professor of Law at Columbia University Bernard Harcourt contends that neoliberalism holds the state as incompetent when it comes to economic regulation but proficient at policing and punishing, and that this paradox has resulted in the expansion of penal confinement. According to The Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States, "neoliberal social and economic policy has more deeply embedded the carceral state within the lives of the poor, transforming what it means to be poor in America."
|“||Our vast network of federal and state prisons, with some 2.3 million inmates, rivals the gulags of totalitarian states.||”|
|— Chris Hedges|
Reporting at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (August 3, 2008), Becky Pettit, associate professor of sociology from the University of Washington and Bryan Sykes, a UW post-doctoral researcher, revealed that the mammoth increase in the United States's prison population since the 1970s is having profound demographic consequences that affect 1 in 50 Americans. Drawing data from a variety of sources that looked at prison and general populations, the researchers found that the boom in prison population is hiding lowered rates of fertility and increased rates of involuntary migration to rural areas and morbidity that is marked by a greater exposure to and risk of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV or AIDS.
Guilty plea bargains concluded 97% of all federal cases in 2011.
As of December 2012, two state prison systems, Alabama and South Carolina, segregated prisoners based on their HIV status. On December 21, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson ruled in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of several inmates that Alabama's practice in doing so violated federal disabilities law. He noted the state's "outdated and unsupported assumptions about HIV and the prison system's ability to deal with HIV-positive prisoners."
Department of Justice Smart on Crime Program
On August 12, 2013, at the American Bar Association's House of Delegates meeting, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the "Smart on Crime" program, which is "a sweeping initiative by the Justice Department that in effect renounces several decades of tough-on-crime anti-drug legislation and policies." Holder said the program "will encourage U.S. attorneys to charge defendants only with crimes "for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins…" Running through Holder's statements, the increasing economic burden of over-incarceration was stressed. As of August 2013, the Smart on Crime program is not a legislative initiative but an effort "limited to the DOJ's policy parameters."
Strip searches and cavity searches
States and insular areas
- United States incarceration rate
- Capital punishment in the United States
- Religion in United States prisons
- Prisoner rights in the United States
- Prison gangs in the United States
- Social groups in male and female prisons in the United States
- History of United States Prison Systems
- Conditions of confinement
- Prison advocacy groups
- Parole in the United States
- Crime in the United States
- United States cities by crime rate
- Law enforcement in the United States
- List of detention sites in the United States
- Penal labor in the United States
- Civilian noninstitutional population
- Human rights in the United States#Prison system
- Statistics of incarcerated African-American males
- Race in the United States criminal justice system
- Race and the War on Drugs
- Race and crime
- Racial profiling in the United States
- By state
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- Selman, Donna and Paul Leighton (2010). Punishment for Sale: Private Prisons, Big Business, and the Incarceration Binge. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 1442201738
- Taibbi, Matt (2014). The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 081299342X
- Wacquant, Loïc (2009). Prisons of Poverty. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816639019
- ——— (2009). Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity. Duke University Press. ISBN 082234422X
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Articles and interviews
- The Prison State of America (2014-12-28), Chris Hedges, Truthdig
- How Prisons Rip Off and Exploit the Incarcerated, Part I (2015-01-04) and Part II (2015-01-07), Marshall "Eddie" Conway and Chris Hedges, The Real News
- Do Prisons and Mass Incarceration Keep Us Safe? Part I (2015-01-11) and Part II (2015-01-13), Marshall "Eddie" Conway and Maya Schenwar, author of Locked Down and Locked Out. The Real News. See also Tomgram: Maya Schenwar, Prison by Any Other Name (2015-01-18), TomDispatch
- "Carceral Conglomerate" Makes Millions From Incarcerated, Their Friends and Families (February 2015), James Kilgore and Brian Dolinar, Truthout
- Prison Industries: "Don't Let Society Improve or We Lose Business" (April 2012), Dina Rasor, Truthout
- Immigrants mistreated in 'inhumane' private prisons, finds report. Al Jazeera America. June 10, 2014.
- Watch John Oliver Explain the Insanity of Our Prison System With Puppets. Mother Jones. July 21, 2014.
- Locked Up for Being Poor: How private debt collectors contribute to a cycle of jail, unemployment, and poverty. The Atlantic. February 25, 2015.
- Why does the US imprison so many people? Al Jazeera America. May 14, 2015.
- Why Isn't More Happening to Reduce America's Bloated Prison Population? Rolling Stone. June 24, 2015.
- Cruel and All-Too-Usual. The Huffington Post. July 1, 2015.
- Big business built the prison state. Why should we trust them to tear it down? The Guardian. July 17, 2015.
- SpearIt, Economic Interest Convergence in Downsizing Imprisonment (2014). University of Pittsburgh Law Review, Vol. 25, 2014. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2608698
- "My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard": Shane Bauer Goes Undercover to Expose Conditions. Democracy Now! June 27, 2016.
- Inside America's biggest prison strike: 'The 13th amendment didn't end slavery'. The Guardian. October 22, 2016.