United States Still Has Highest Incarceration Rate in the World


New prison and jail population data released this week by the United States Department of Justice shows the United States still incarcerates its citizens at a rate 5 to 10 times higher than other industrialized countries. Some 2.27 million people were incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country in 2017 —a 500% increase over the last 40 years.

The Sentencing Project analyzed the data, which is current through the end of 2017. It shows that the prison population nationwide declined by 7.3 percent since its highest level in 2009, but the decrease is primarily attributable to reforms in six states that have reduced their prison populations by at least 30 percent in the past 20 years:  Alaska, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 1,489,363 people were incarcerated in state or federal prisons at year-end 2017. At the current rate of decline, it will take 75 years to cut the prison population by half, the Sentencing Project reports.

County and city jails held an additional 745,200 people at midyear 2017, about two-thirds of whom had not been convicted. In 2017, jails reported 10.6 million admissions.

The number of people in prison sentenced to life reached a record high of 206,000 people by year-end 2017. One of every seven people in prison is serving a life sentence. The Sentencing Project found that two-thirds of the people sentenced to life in prison are people of color.

Data analysis revealed another troubling trend: the rate of women’s incarceration has been rising at a rate 50 percent higher than men’s since the 1980s, and declines in the incarceration rate for women have been slower than for men. There are 111,000 women in prison in the United States.