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Wisconsin has an incarceration rate of 663 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 almost any democracy on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in Wisconsin and why.

Jump to COVID-19 data.


41,000 people from Wisconsin are behind bars

Pie chart showing that 41,000 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 129,000 different people are booked into local jails in Wisconsin.


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 Wisconsin from 1978 to 2015 Also see these Wisconsin graphs:


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


Today, Wisconsin’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 Wisconsin. The incarceration rate of 664 per 100,000 for the United States and 663 for Wisconsin is much higher than any of the founding NATO membersIn 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 Wisconsin

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

See also our detailed graphs about Whites, Blacks, and American Indians/Native Americans in Wisconsin prisons and jails.


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

Pie chart showing that 104,000 Wisconsin residents are in various types of correctional facilities or under criminal justice supervision on probation or parole


Data on COVID-19 in Wisconsin jails and prisons

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

  • As of summer 2021, adult correctional facilities in Wisconsin are operating at 113% capacity.
  • While other states suspended all co-pays in prisons during the pandemic, Wisconsin only suspended co-pays for people exhibiting COVID symptoms, discouraging people from seeking medical care.

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


Our other articles about Wisconsin

Prison-based gerrymandering in Wisconsin


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