Incarceration in America

Joliet Felony Incarceration JailDid you know that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world? According to recent data, there are currently over 2.2 million people in prisons and jails across the nation, some serving short sentences and some facing life in prison. For every 100,000 people in America, there are 698 in jail or prison. Compare that with other developed nations, like Australia, where 151 people per 100,000 are incarcerated, or France, where 100 people per 100,000 are incarcerated, and it is clear that the United States has a major problem. How did America’s incarceration rate grow to be so high? Is more crime being committed here? What is being done to lowering prison populations? How does Illinois’ prison data compare to elsewhere in the country? Below, we explore incarceration in America.

Why Are So Many People Incarcerated?

According to the Sentencing Project , a nonprofit organization advocating for an improved criminal justice system in America, the incarceration rate in America has seen a 500 percent increase in just the last 40 years. Why the increase? Advocates say that the problem is not more criminals, or more crime being committed, but rather a harsher criminal justice system. Policy changes have led to a “tough on crime” mentality that has remained since its adoption in the early 1980s at the start of the War on Drugs. In 1980, 41,000 people were in jail or prison due to drug related charges. In 2014, that number jumped to nearly half a million. Additionally, the number of people in jail or prison for property or violent crimes has also increased substantially, even during times where crime rates have dipped.
In addition to sending more people to prison, sentences have grown increasingly harsh. Laws have been put in place requiring a mandatory minimum sentence and parole has been cut back, leading to an increase in prison populations. Also, life sentences have risen significantly. Currently, one in nine people in prison are serving life sentences, and nearly a third of them have been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Mass Incarceration Does Not Affect Every Community Equally

Unfortunately, mass incarceration affects African American and Hispanic men and women significantly more than white men and women. While people of color currently make up 37 percent of the entire US population, they account for 67 percent of the US prison population. Specialists say that, in general, African Americans are more likely to be arrested when compared to white people, and once arrested, African Americans are more likely to be convicted and face harsh sentences. Latino men and women also face a higher likelihood of arrest, conviction, and harsh punishment.

How Does Illinois Compare?

Illinois has a substantial prison population. In 2014, $1.5 billion was spent on corrections, and at that time there were nearly 50,000 individuals incarcerated statewide. Racial disparities are also a major issue in Illinois. For every white person incarcerated in an Illinois prison, there are 8.8 African Americans and 1.6 Hispanics. Men also represent a significant majority of those imprisoned in Illinois, with only 2,888 women incarcerated in Illinois in 2014 compared to 45,390 men.

Is Mass Incarceration Effective?

While crime rates in America have declined substantially over recent years, specialists say mass imprisonment has little to do with the drop. According to The National Research Council, prison growth did play a part in reducing crime, but the evidence suggests its impact is minimal. Why is mass incarceration ineffective? Drugs will continue to be a problem, no matter how many people are arrested. Additionally, gang activity and youth crime are largely unaffected by mass incarceration, as others can easily replace those arrested and imprisoned. Also, lengthy prison sentences are a problem. Studies show that people tend to “age out” of crime, meaning that by their 30s and 40s, the likelihood of committing a crime drops substantially.
You do not need to become another statistic. If you are facing criminal charges, you need the help of a qualified Will County criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba at 815-740-4025 to learn more about how we can help you today.