More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, according to a report released yesterday.This number -- which represents a tripling of the number of incarcerated over the past 20 years -- is driven not primarily by population or a rising crime rate, but by stricter sentencing policies.
With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.
Now obviously, crime stats are complicated and likely to be interpreted through an ideological lens, so I won't even try to interpret what this "really" means. The report itself -- which is not too long and an interesting read (download here) -- limits itself to discussions of the expense and societal trade-offs of maintaining such a large prison population. But still, it is a sobering statistic and a reminder that we as a society could certainly be doing better on this front.