Incarceration Statistics

  • Georgia is currently #1 in the nation for the number of persons under supervision, whether that is in prison, jail, parole, or probation. Georgia is #2 for jail incarceration rates.
  • The United States locks up more people, per capita than any other nation (2.3M). We account for only 5% of the world population, but 21% of the world’s prisoners.
  • Nearly half of Black males and 40% of White males are arrested by age 23.
  • Overcriminalization of drug use, over 1 million drug possession arrests each year, 6 times as many as those arrested for drug sales.
  • Most people in prison are poor, and the poorest are women and people of color. Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration, but it’s also frequently the outcome as a criminal record and time spent in prison destroys wealth, creates mounting debt, and decimates job opportunities.
  • The real scandal is local jail churn (10.6 million), “incarceration’s front door”.
  • The US Justice System controls almost 7M people, more than half on probation (3.6M), and 840,000 on parole. Technical violations (not for a new crime) are the main reason for the incarceration of people on probation and parole.
  • Community supervision (probation or parole) is often seen as an alternative to incarceration, but the conditions imposed on those under supervision are often so restrictive that they set people up to fail. The long supervision terms, numerous and burdensome requirements, and constant surveillance result in frequent “failures”, often for minor infractions like breaking curfew or failing to pay unaffordable supervision fees.
  • Probation, in particular, leads to unnecessary incarceration; until it is reformed to support and reward success rather than detect mistakes, it is not a reliable alternative
  • More than half of the 2.3M are parents of children under 18-collateral damage
Prison Policy Initiative concludes with the question: “Will local leaders be brave enough to redirect public spending to smarter investments like evidence-based community-based drug treatment and job training.


MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — The Hamblen County Jail has been described as a dangerously overcrowded “cesspool of a dungeon,” with inmates sleeping on mats in the hallways, lawyers forced to meet their clients in a supply closet and the people inside subjected to “horrible conditions” every day.

And that’s the county sheriff talking.

Jail populations used to be concentrated in big cities. But since 2013, the number of people locked up in rural, conservative counties such as Hamblen has skyrocketed, driven by the nation’s drug crisis.

Like a lot of Appalachia, Morristown, Tenn., about an hour east of Knoxville, has been devastated by methamphetamine and opioid use. Residents who commit crimes to support their addiction pack the 255-bed jail, which had 439 inmates at the end of October, according to the latest state data. more……

Nicholas Kristof for The Times

America’s biggest mistake over the last half-century arguably had nothing to do with the war in Vietnam or Iraq, or with Watergate or Donald Trump. Rather, I’d say that it was mass incarceration, fueled by the war on drugs. 

The United States used to have incarceration rates similar to those of Europe — and then, beginning in about 1970, we increased the number of people behind bars sevenfold. About as many Americans now have a criminal record as have a college degree. Mass incarceration shattered America’s family structure, magnified race gaps, left millions of people marginalized — and has been brutally unfair. more……

Pat Batcheller, June 12, 2019  WDET 101.9 PBR

Study Finds Treating Inmates’ Mental Health Reduces Their Risk of Returning to Jail

A new study offers a solution to the problems of jail overcrowding and recidivism in Michigan: Invest more in mental health and drug treatment.
Wayne State University’s Center for Behavioral Health and Justice spent five years reviewing treatment and jail-diversion programs in 10 counties. Researchers found that people who got treatment for mental health disorders were less likely to return to jail.
Training law enforcement to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness is really important,” says Sheryl Kubiak, dean of WSU’s School of Social Work who led the study.  more….