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The US Prison State

A prison-industrial complex by the numbers.

January 29, 2018

1. The United States is home to about 25% of the world’s total prison population – over 5.5 times its share of the overall world population.

2. The United States incarcerates about 2.3 million people annually, as of 2016.

3. Many millions more pass through the system briefly for minor arrests or dismissed charges, and so on – often having to gather costly cash bail or face jail, even if they are innocent.

4. There are more than 1,700 state prisons, more than 100 federal prisons, more than 900 juvenile facilities and more than 3,100 local jails.

5. There are also a range of specialized short- and long-term holding centers, like military or indigenous prisons and immigrant detention centers.

6. These facilities – whether public or privately-operated – are a major economic hub, especially for jobs, in thousands of communities across the country.

7. That makes it politically difficult to promote detention and sentencing reform policies that would reduce the need for them.

8. Even in public prisons, staff jobs and contracts for food and laundry services become a local revenue stream that discourages reducing incarcerated populations.

9. Beyond the 2.3 million behind bars, there are also 3.7 million Americans on probation outside of jail, with various conditions, and 840,000 on parole.

Sources: Washington Post, Prison Policy Initiative, The Globalist Research Center


The US is home to about 25% of the world’s total prison population.

The US incarcerates about 2.3 million people annually.