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The cost of incarceration
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South Carolina has an incarceration rate of 678 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in South Carolina and why.

32,000 people from South Carolina are behind bars

Pie chart showing that 38,000 South Carolina residents are locked up in federal prisons, state prisons, local jails and other types of facilities

Additionally, the number of people impacted by county and city jails in South Carolina is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 89,000 different people are booked into local jails in South Carolina.

Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years

graph showing the number of people in state prison and local jails per 100,000 residents in South Carolina from 1978 to 2015 Also see these South Carolina graphs:

Graph showing the number of people in South Carolina jails who were convicted and the number who were unconvicted, for the years 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1999, 2005, and 2013.

Today, South Carolina’s incarceration rates stand out internationally

graphic comparing the incarceration rates of the founding NATO members with the incarceration rates of the United States and the state of South Carolina. The incarceration rate of 664 per 100,000 for the United States and 678 for South Carolina is much higher than any of the founding NATO members In the U.S., incarceration extends beyond prisons and local jails to include other systems of confinement. The U.S. and state incarceration rates in this graph include people held by these other parts of the justice system, so they may be slightly higher than the commonly reported incarceration rates that only include prisons and jails. Details on the data are available in States of Incarceration: The Global Context. We also have a version of this graph focusing on the incarceration of women.

People of color are overrepresented in prisons and jails

2010 graph showing incarceration rates per 100,000 people of various racial and ethnic groups in South Carolina

racial and ethnic disparities between the prison/jail and general population in SC as of 2010

See also our detailed graphs about Whites, Hispanics, and Blacks in South Carolina prisons and jails.

South Carolina's criminal justice system is more than just its prisons and jails

Pie chart showing that 74,000 South Carolina residents are in various types of correctional facilities or under criminal justice supervision on probation or parole

The high cost of being incarcerated in South Carolina

Prisons and jails in South Carolina are increasingly shifting the cost of incarceration to people behind bars and their families, hiding the true economic costs of mass incarceration:

Our other articles about South Carolina

Other resources

Data on COVID-19 in South Carolina jails and prisons

We gave South Carolina a failing grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:

  • South Carolina released fewer people on parole in 2020 than they had in 2019, and approved a smaller percent of parole applications.
  • South Carolina is one of 13 states that did not implement any policies to accelerate releases, promote medical parole or compassionate release, prevent incarceration for technical violations of probation and parole, or hasten releases for people incarcerated on minor offenses.
  • South Carolina is one of 15 prison systems that had not yet vaccinated more than 60% of the incarcerated population.

For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources:

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