The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. This is despite the national incarceration rate being at its lowest in 20 years. About 25% of the world’s total prison population is in the United States, which holds about 2.19 million prisoners as of 2019 (1.38 million in federal and state prisons, 745,200 in jails). Mass incarceration in the United States has led to several problems. Among these are overcrowded prisons, which lead to increased health risks and decreased psychological well-being.
Additionally, the increasing number of prisoners puts a major strain on state budgets. State prisons spend as high as $69,355 per inmate (the average cost of an inmate in New York). Prisons control and administer all aspects of life for inmates, resulting in a long list of costly necessities. Costs include food, recreational activities, educational opportunities, adequate security, utility costs, infrastructure maintenance, and health care.
Mass incarceration in the United States is a civil rights issue. Many argue that incarceration dehumanizes poor people and minorities, damaging already marginalized communities, and does not increase public safety. Additionally, high recidivism rates show that incarceration is ineffective and harmful to offenders, their families, the victims, and law enforcement if an offender does time without proper counseling and assimilation back into their community. Many prisoners have difficulty reestablishing relationships, finding jobs, and staying away from criminal activity after being released.
The United States has about 437 prisoners per 100,000 people as of the end of 2019, a 2.6% drop from 2018. As of 2018, the imprisonment rate of black males was 5.8 times greater than that of white males, and the imprisonment rate of black females was 1.8 times greater than the of white females. New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts have the lowest prison incarceration rates of under 200 per 100,000 people.
The ten states with the highest prison populations in the country are Texas (154,749), California (122,417), Florida (96,009), Georgia (54,113), Ohio (50,338), Pennsylvania (45,485), New York (43,439), Arizona (40,951), Illinois (38,259), and Michigan (38,053). In terms of imprisonment rate per 100,000 people, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi have the highest rates, 680, 639, and 636, respectively.