Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?

216 Hart Senate Office Building - 10:00 am
October 4, 2007

Washington D.C. - The United States has experienced a sharp increase in its prison population in the past thirty years.  From the 1920s to the mid-1970s, the incarceration rate in the United States remained steady at approximately 110 prisoners per 100,000 people. Today, the incarceration rate is 737 inmates per 100,000 residents, comprising 2.1 million persons in federal, state, and local prisons.  The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but now has 25 percent of its prisoners.  There are approximately 5 million Americans under the supervision of the correctional system, including parole, probation, and other community supervision sanctions.

With such a significant number of the population behind bars, expenditures associated with the prison system have skyrocketed.  According to the Urban Institute, “the social and economic costs to the nation are enormous.”  With 2.25 million people incarcerated in approximately five thousand prisons and jails, the combined expenditures of local governments, state governments, and the federal government for law enforcement and corrections personnel totals over $200 billion.

The JEC examined why the United States has such a disproportionate share of the world’s prison population, as well as ways to address this issue that responsibly balance public safety and the high social and economic costs of imprisonment. 

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