Let’s take a more in-depth look at the rate of incarceration in the USA - Home to the largest population of prison inmates in the world today.
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 lower their standards further, given the fact that most jails are often at their full capacity and beyond.
Today, incarceration is considered the primary (and most likely) form of punishment in the United States. The country just so happens to be home to the most significant prison population on Earth, and it also has the highest incarceration rate per capita. When compared to other nations, the numbers are quite staggering. According to 2018 stats, there were about 700 people in jail for every 100.000 individuals. More than 2.5 million citizens have spent time in jail in the year 2016 alone, with over 4 million on probation or parole. In terms of percentage rations, roughly 0.7% of Americans are currently sitting in jail, with the state of Oklahoma having the highest rates of incarceration in America. When compared to a global scale, this is particularly significant, as the incarceration rates in the United States are far greater than those of other countries. To put it into perspective, just think of the following fact. The population of the United States consists of only 5% of the world population. However, 20% of the world’s prisoners are located in the United States! The phenomenon of mass incarceration in America has been going on for several years now, and it is difficult to pinpoint a single reason why this is happening. The high rates of incarceration are likely due to a number of issues, including a particularly jail-friendly legal system, which might be prone to jail people even as they wait for a trial or for minor misdemeanors. In addition to that, social and economic factors fall into place as well, with people living in rough neighborhoods and poverty-stricken areas making up a larger number of inmates.
Today, over 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, distributed mainly throughout the State prison network. Some 600.000 people are imprisoned in local jails, while a smaller chunk of inmates, roughly 226.000, are currently detained in Federal facilities. There is a lot of controversy concerning the prison system in the United States, as well as the alleged disproportional rate of incarceration that varies between ethnicities. For instance, even small offenses in some states can result in some serious jail time for an individual. This, in turn, might be quite costly, leading to a massive displacement of resources just to keep the prison network running. 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 theoretically should not be punishable with serving time in prison. This might happen when people fail to show up for court sessions or don’t pay fines, for example. In most states, judges have the power to issue what’s called a “bench warrant,” effectively mandating the arrest of individuals whose initial crimes did not warrant jail time at all. The saddest part is that the widespread practice of issuing bench warrants is often hurting people who did not really mean to avoid the law. In some cases, they might have simply misunderstood the process or forgot, unintentionally making their situation worse. The fear of incarceration often pushes these people to get off the grid. High rates of incarcerations 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 in order to avoid jail time and consequently become unable to hold a regular job, pay taxes, and generally being 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.
As mentioned earlier, there is a disproportional amount of individuals from other minorities in the prison system. In most US states, African Americans are about six times more likely to be incarcerated than white people in the same situation. Although we are still quite a long way from finding an actionable solution to the prison overpopulation issue, there are many ideas on the table. Some look at the jail system of Scandinavian countries such as Norway or Sweden. These nations are mostly focused on rehabilitation, and jail sentences are significantly shorter when compared to the United States, even when it comes to inmates with more severe offenses under their belt. 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. So, why is the US not embracing this system? The idea is remarkable, but there is a long way to go because the US has a very fragmented setup when it comes to its prisons. The country has federal jails, local prisons, and state penitentiaries, not to mention private prisons, which are becoming increasingly widespread as a response to the overpopulation of prison facilities. Creating a common ground for all of these different entities to operate and agree on one modus operandi can be quite challenging, and it might not happen without much-needed reforms and awareness campaigns. Overcrowded jails are often linked to other issues, including broken homes, homelessness, unemployment, social inequity, high taxes, and other factors that can effectively decrease the quality standards of many lives and ultimately take a significant economic and social toll on the country as a whole.