Prisoners per 100,000 population

“One in every 142 U.S. residents was in prison or jail [in 2002]” when inmate skin infections were a growing concern, writes Daniel Yee with the The Associated Press.1

“The number of Americans under the control of the criminal justice system grew by 130,700 [in 2003] to reach a new high of nearly 6.9 million, according to a Justice Department report [released 26 July 2004], notes Fox Butterfield for The New York Times. “This is about 3.2 percent of the adult population in the United States, the report said, and the total includes people in jail and prison as well as those on probation and parole.” 2

Of federal prisoners in 1994, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that about 50 percent “were being held for drug law violations” and “among state inmates, approximately 21 percent [we]re confined for drug offenses.” 3


“The [New York Police Department’s] stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights,” writes the New York Civil Liberties Union (NCLU):

An analysis by the NCLU revealed that innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports.4

The website discusses an ACLU report regarding inmates sentenced to life without parole (LWOP):

Nearly 80 percent of non-violent LWOP offenses are for drug crimes. Among the cases the ACLU surveyed, 83 percent of offenders were placed there because of mandatory minimums or three-strike laws—in other words, the judges had no choice.…

Like most aspects of the criminal justice system, there are stark racial disparities in life without parole sentences. Sixty-five percent of LWOP inmates are black, while in some states the disparity is even higher. In Louisiana, 91 percent are black. In the federal system, blacks are 20 times more likely to be sentenced to LWOP than whites.5

“Being arrested is no small thing,” writes Derek Snider for BBS News. “You are handcuffed, taken into custody, fingerprinted, mug shots taken, held until you can post bail, and pretty well guaranteed to receive a criminal record, jail time or not.” 6

“Those with one drug-possession offense are ineligible for federal college aid for one year after conviction,” note DrugScope. “A second drug-possession or first drug-sale conviction means ineligibility for two years. More convictions bar aid indefinitely, unless the offender undergoes drug rehabilitation.” 7

vacant prison cell

Snider continues:

Doing hard time is no laughing matter. It destroys lives. It exposes you to aggressive, violent criminals, abuse, diseases, and leaves you permanently changed. Incarceration is completely ineffective in controlling drug use. Drugs are more available as well as more appealing inside of prison. In fact, a marijuana using prisoner will likely turn to a harder drug because the drug test for marijuana use is much harder to beat.8

Calvin and Hobbes

“An estimated 10,000 babies are born each year in Incarceration Nation,” notes Rosa Brooks when comparing the U.S. prison population to their own country:

Most are “deported” within months, generally landing with foster families. But Incarceration Nation does have its own form of birthright citizenship, if you can call it that: as many as 70 percent of children with an incarcerated parent end up incarcerated themselves at some point.9

“Across the United States, thousands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons,” notes the Equal Justice Initiative website:

Over 2200 juveniles nationwide have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Children as young as 13 years old have been tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison, typically without any consideration of their age or circumstances of the offense.… Sadly, many states have ignored the crisis and dysfunction that creates child delinquency and instead have subjected kids to further victimization and abuse in the adult criminal justice system.10

“There are roughly 70,000 youngsters in the country’s juvenile detention facilities, thousands of them 16 years old or younger,” writes Joaquin Sapien.11

“A 2010 Bureau of Justice survey found that 1 in 8 juveniles in detention are sexually assaulted, with LGBT inmates at least 10 times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse,” notes The Huffington Post.12

USA Today reports that “more than 12% of youths in juvenile prisons are sexually abused while in custody there, according to a Justice Department study out [7 January 2010]. And the vast majority of cases involve female staff and boys under their supervision”:

Sexual victimization of youths in custody “is one of those hidden closets of the system,” said Bart Lubow, director of the juvenile justice and strategy group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which advocates for children. The rates at the worst facilities are “so high they’re stunning,” he said. “I am, on the other hand, never surprised as people peel the layers of the youth corrections onion and expose more and more things that make you cry.” 13

U.S. Juvenile Detention Populations 1985-1999
Annie E. Casey Foundation

“Pennsylvania’s top justice issued a final report Monday [8 April 2013] detailing how the judiciary responded to recommendations to address shortcomings in the juvenile justice system,” writes Robert Swift for news website:

The report by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille describes nearly 60 changes to court rules governing state appellate and juvenile courts and other actions taken to expunge criminal records of juveniles, set a new code of conduct for judicial employees and provide for the compensation of victim restitution claims relating to the delinquent conduct of juvenile offenders.14

“The changes were prompted by the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Luzerne County,” notes John Lash for The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.15

Swift continues:

This report is a response to the scandal that erupted in early 2009, when former county Judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan were charged with abuses relating to the sentencing of juvenile offenders in Luzerne County to a for-profit detention center. Mr. Ciavarella and Mr. Conahan are serving lengthy terms in federal prison for their role in the scandal.&#133

Key rules changes implemented by the court include requiring juveniles to have an attorney present at court delinquency hearings, prohibiting the use of restraints on a juvenile in the courtroom unless it’s for the safety of court personnel and the juvenile, establishing an extensive question-and-answer process with a judge before a juvenile can enter a plea agreement and creating an expedited appeal process when a juvenile is removed from his or her home as a sentence.

In many cases, the new court rules complement state laws added to the books in recent years.16

Lash points out that “the profit motive corrupts wherever it appears in connection to juvenile justice.… Corruption in government is nothing new or even uncommon, but it seems especially egregious when it involves the justice system, and downright intolerable when it impacts kids.” 17

“The Missouri Model of juvenile justice – often referred to as the “Missouri Miracle” – has become famous for its apparent success in giving kids who run afoul of the law a second chance,” writes Rina Palta for The Informant:

The state has closed down its youth prisons and moved towards a model focused on rehabilitation and therapy. Kids on probation there are now housed in small groups of 15-30 and their treatment is personalized, handled by attentive staff, and involves family and community members.18

It is expected of California inpatient rehab centers to welcome for treatment people from all walks of life.

Prison life is the result of a collision of races, cultures, generations, and hometowns, bound by the common denominator of a felony conviction. A common transactional slang is an inevitable result of both the oppression of prison life and the disparate backgrounds of the prisoners.
– Tom Dalzell, Damn the Man!: Slang of the Oppressed in America

A day in the life of a prisoner infographic
Mass incarceration infographic
A day in the life of a prisoner infographic

The Seattle Foundation features the Post-Prison Education Program:

The goal of the Post-Prison Education Program is to dramatically reduce recidivism by harnessing the power of education. Education opens the door to a living wage, clean and sober housing, empowered and responsible living and strengthened families – the most important factors in breaking the cycle of poverty and crime.…

The Post-Prison Education Program (PPEP) has a documented rate of recidivism of less than two percent – as contrasted with the Washington State Department of Corrections’ rate of approximately 43%. The Program accomplishes what the State does not by meeting the legitimate frugal needs of former prisoners simultaneous to linking them with post-secondary education, building meaningful mentorship relationships, and delivering consequential support services whether they are housing, legal representation, mental health counseling, or tutoring. The Program’s success not only dramatically reduces recidivism but also ensures that the students finish their education, and go on to have stable jobs, strong families, and productive lives.19

The website notes that while Europe’s prisons are shrinking and closing, as opposed to America’s growing prison population:

Treating prisoners more humanely and using probation or a fine instead of a mandatory short prison sentence may be the solution to cutting down on inmate populations and returning prisoners to productive lives in society, according to experts who have studied the European prison system. More than 90 percent of Dutch sentences and 75 percent of German sentences are 12 months or less. The average U.S. state prison sentence is about three years.20

“Shares in the Philadelphia-based Aramark Holdings Corp., which contracts through Aramark Correctional Services to provide the food to 600 correctional institutions across the United States, went public Thursday [19 December 2013],” notes Chris Hedges for Nation of Change Humans Rights:

The corporation, acquired in 2007 for $8.3 billion by investors that included Goldman Sachs, raised $725 million last week from the sale of the stock. It is one more sign that the business of locking up poor people in corporate America is booming.…

Aramark, often contracted to provide food to prisoners at about a dollar a meal, is one of numerous corporations, from phone companies to construction firms, that have found our grotesque system of mass incarceration to be very profitable. The bodies of the poor, when they are not captive, are worth little to corporations. But bodies behind bars can each generate $40,000 to $50,000 a year for corporate coffers. More than 2.2 million men and women are in prisons and jails in the U.S.21


1 Daniel Yee (The Associated Press), “Inmate Skin Infections Becoming a Concern,” Yahoo! News, 17 October 2003 (retrieved: ~2004).

2 Fox Butterfield (The New York Times), “Record 6.9 million people in criminal system,” San Francisco Chronicle, 26 July 2004, at (retrieved: 29 July 2012).

3 U.S. Department of Justice, Advance for Release: “Comparing Federal and State Prisoners,” 2 October 1994, at North Illinois University, at (retrieved: ~2004).

4 “Stop-and-Frisk Campaign: About the Issue,” New York Civil Liberties Union, at (retrieved: 19 December 2012).

5 Jess Remington, “Report: Thousands of Nonviolent Americans Sentenced to Life in Prison Due to War on Drugs and Mandatory Minimums,”, 13 November 2013, at (retrieved: 16 November 2013); See also “A Living Death: A Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenders,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), November 2013, at (retrieved: 16 November 2013).

6 Derek Snider, “ONDCP Claims ‘Joint’ Smokers Don’t go to Prison,” BBSNews, 7 Feb 2003 at (retrieved: ~2004).

7 “Scholarship created for US students with drug use records,” DrugScope, 26 Mar 2002, at (retrieved: ~2004).

8 Snider, “ONDCP Claims.”

9 Rosa Brooks, “Imagine If America’s Incarcerated Population Were Its Own Country — Revealing the Disturbing Statistics,” AlterNet, 26 December 2013, at (retrieved: 27 December 2013).

10 Children in Adult Prison, Equal Justice Initiative, at (retrieved: 8 August 2012).

11 Pro Publica, “Rape and sexual assault run rampant in juvenile justice system: Justice Department survey,” The Raw Story, 6 June 2013, at (retrieved: 6 June 2013).

12 Samantha Lachman, “Rick Perry Says Texas Won’t Comply With Measures To Reduce Rape in Prison,” The Huffington Post, 3 April 2014, at (retrieved: 3 April 2014).

13 Martha T. Moore, “Study: Youths sexually abused in juvenile prisons,” 7 January 2010, USA Today, at (retrieved: 6 June 2013).

14 Robert Swift, “Top court issues final juvenile justice report,”, 9 April 2013, at (retrieved: 14 April 2013).

15 John Lash, “Prisons are no Place for Profit,” The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, 12 April 2013, at (retrieved: 6 June 2013).

16 Swift, “Top court,” (retrieved: 14 April 2013).

17 Lash, “Prisons are no Place.” (retrieved: 14 April 2013).

18 Rina Palta, “What can Missouri teach us about juvenile justice?” 17 February 2011, The Informant, at (retrieved: 8 August 2012); See also Rina Palta, “What can Missouri teach us about juvenile justice?” 17 February 2011, Community Justice Network for Youth, at (retrieved: 8 August 2012).

19 Post-Prison Education Program, The Seattle Foundation, at (retrieved: 16 May 2013).

20 Peter Zachariadis, “Some European Prisons Are Shrinking and Closing—What Can America Learn?”, 14 November 2013, at (retrieved: 16 November 2013).

21 Chris Hedges, “Food Behind Bars Isn’t Fit for Your Dog,”, 24 December 2013, at (retrieved: 27 December 2013).

See also

“19 Crazy Things That School Children Are Being Arrested For In America,” The American Dream, at (retrieved: 26 June 2012).

Calamari Documentaries | Kids in The System, Clips from the video archive of the only documentary producer in the country with open access to film where cameras are forbidden by law, at (retrieved: 8 August 2012).

Rebekah Skelton, interview with law professor Michelle Alexander, “The school-to-prison pipeline: growing up in a system designed for failure,” 15 February 2013, at (retrieved: 15 April 2014).

Rebecca Boon, “Inmates claim gangs are running Idaho prison,”, 13 November 2012, at (retrieved: 13 November 2012).

For Profit Prisons, Huffington Post, at (retrieved: 18 May 2013).

Nicole Flatow, “Facing Rates Of $17 For 15 Minutes, FCC Takes Up Regulation Of Prison Phone Industry, ThinkProgress, 19 November 2012, at (retrieved: 19 November 2012).

Cristina Costantini, “More Children Growing Up With Parents Behind Bars,” ABC News, 27 November 2012, at (retrieved: 5 December 2012).

“About the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative,” The Annie E. Casey Foundation, at (retrieved: 14 April 2013).

“Prison Tattoos and Their Secret Meanings,”, at (retrieved: 1 May 2013).

Corey G. Johnson, “Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval,” PrisonMovement’s Weblog, 7 July 2013, at (retrieved: 17 July 2013).

Related videos

“Incarcerex Prison Industrial Complex,” SilverShieldGrp video at, (retrieved: 18 November 2012). (Watch it here)

“US Prison Population: The Largest in the World,” LearnLiberty video at, (retrieved: 21 August 2012). (Watch it here)

“Juveniles in Adult Prisons,” ikehoops23 video at, (retrieved: 8 August 2012). (Watch it here)

“Florida’s Kids Prison – USA,” journeymanpictures video at, (retrieved: 8 August 2012). (Watch it here)

“Inside Juvenile Prison: What It’s Like,” CalamariEducational video at, (retrieved: 8 August 2012). (Watch it here)

“Young Kids, Hard Time,” CalamariEducational video at, (retrieved: 8 August 2012). (Watch it here)

“Hard Time : Prison Gangs,” video at, (retrieved: 8 August 2012). (Watch it here)

“Janies Got A Gun,” GasarakiTest video at, (retrieved: 15 February 2013). (Watch it here)

“Idiocracy – “This particular individual is unscannable”,” Kevin Crosby video at, (retrieved: 21 November 2012). (Watch it here)

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