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United States profile

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 $82.4 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.


pie chart showing the number of people locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and, where available, the underlying offense For more information: Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie

Incarceration over time

graph showing the incarceration rates per 100,000 for (separately) United States state prisons, federal prisons and local jails from 1925 through 2012, showing that the state rate is the most important part See the same graph expressed as raw numbers instead of as rates per 100,000 population.

Or see individual graphs for 1978-2012 for:

Racial and ethnic disparities

2010 graph showing incarceration rates per 100,000 people of various racial and ethnic groups in the United States

2010 graph showing that Whites are underrepresented in the United States prisons and jails

2010 graph showing that Hispanics are overrepresented in the United States prisons and jails

2010 graph showing that Blacks are overrepresented in the United States prisons and jails

2010 graph showing that American_Indian are overrepresented in the United States prisons and jails

Ending prison gerrymandering

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.

Map showing the growing national momentum to end prison-based gerrymandering, including actions by state and local governments

Other Prison Policy Initiative national research and advocacy materials

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