Overcrowded prisons can take a toll on the whole system. As you can imagine, jails cost money and require higher taxes. Frequently, they are challenging to manage and need a lot of resources to run. This might further lower their standards, given that most jails are often at full capacity and beyond.
Currently, incarceration is the primary (and most common) form of punishment in the United States. The country is home to the most significant prison population on Earth, and it also has the highest incarceration rate per capita. In 2022, there are two million people in prisons and jails throughout the United States. Regarding percentage rations, roughly 0.7% of Americans are currently sitting in jail, with the state of Oklahoma having the highest incarceration rates in America.
When compared to other nations, the numbers are quite staggering. On a global scale, the incarceration rates in the United States are far greater than in other countries. To put it into perspective, the population of the United States consists of only 5% of the world's population; however, 20% of the world’s prisoners are located in the United States!
Data from 2021 shows that 300.36 per 100,000 people are incarnated in the United States. This is compared to other NATO countries like The United Kingdom (129 per 100,000), France (93 per 100,000), and Iceland (33 per 100,000).
Twenty-four states have higher incarceration rates than the national average. These states are:
Even more shocking are the statistics from more “progressive states.” The state with the lowest incarnation rate in the country, Massachusetts, would rank 17th globally, higher than countries like Colombia and Iran. New York has an incarceration rate higher than multiple countries with murder rates more than double those in the United States.
The phenomenon of mass incarceration in America has been going on for several years now, and it isn't easy to pinpoint a single reason why this is happening. The high incarceration rates are likely due to several issues, including a particularly jail-friendly legal system, which might be prone to jail people even as they wait for a trial for minor misdemeanors. In addition, social and economic factors also fall into place, with people living in rough neighborhoods and poverty-stricken areas making up a larger number of inmates.
There is a lot of controversy concerning the prison system in the United States and the alleged disproportional incarceration rate that varies between ethnicities. For instance, even small offenses in some states can result in serious jail time for an individual. Over-criminalization is often considered a pressing issue: in some states, even relatively low-level misdemeanors, such as jaywalking, could potentially lead to pre-trial incarceration.
In some cases, defendants even find themselves in jail for crimes that should not be punishable by serving time in prison. For example, this might happen when people fail to show up for court sessions or don’t pay fines. In most states, judges have the power to issue a “bench warrant,” effectively mandating the arrest of individuals whose initial crimes did not warrant jail time.
High incarceration rates due to low-level crime have often been linked with other issues, including homelessness. In other words, people in these desperate situations might flee their life to avoid jail time and consequently become unable to hold a regular job, pay taxes, and generally be fully functional members of society. On a conceptual level, it seems that many jurisdictions still prefer to resort to jail time rather than look for more sustainable solutions, especially for those crimes for which jail might be an overreaction.
Although we are still quite a long way from finding an actionable solution to the prison overpopulation issue, many ideas are on the table. Some look at Scandinavian jail systems, such as in Norway or Sweden. These nations are mostly focused on rehabilitation, and jail sentences are significantly shorter compared to the United States, even when it comes to inmates with more severe offenses. The main target is to turn an offender into a productive member of society, so the focus of jail in those countries is rehabilitation rather than punishment. This leads to shorter jail terms and reportedly decreases the chance of repeated offenders.
The idea is remarkable, but there is a long way to go because the US has a fragmented prison setup. The country has federal jails, local prisons, and state penitentiaries, not to mention private prisons, which are becoming increasingly widespread in response to the overpopulation of prison facilities. Creating a common ground of operation for all these different entities can take a lot of work. It might only happen with much-needed reforms and awareness campaigns.
Incarceration Rate (per 100k)