With over two million people behind bars at any given time, the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world.
We spend about $182 billion every year — not to mention the significant social cost — to lock up nearly 1% of our adult population. To be able to evaluate this policy choice, our communities must have access to reliable and up-to-date information about the trajectory and scope of our nation’s experiment with mass incarceration. With this page, and the accompanying 50 State Incarceration Profile series, we hope bring some of the most important and under-discussed national facts into the public discourse.
See the same graph expressed as total numbers rather than rates.
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The way the Census Bureau counts people in prison creates significant problems for democracy and for our nation’s future. It leads to a dramatic distortion of representation at local and state levels, and creates an inaccurate picture of community populations for research and planning purposes.