The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Not only that, America also puts more people in prison per capita than in any other independent democracy. Even progressive states with low incarceration rates relative to the rest of the United States have more people in jail than most other places in the developed world. If individual states were counted as countries, many of them would have the highest incarceration rates in the world, ahead of actual entire other countries.
The reasons behind the mass incarceration epidemic in the United States are multifaceted and complex. They are not due to rates of violent crime, which are actually less prevalent in the United States than they are in many countries that rank higher on the incarceration scale, including Russia and Turkey, which both have authoritarian governments. Instead, the high rates of American incarceration boil down to a reliance on policing and jails to address a range of social problems that could be solved with other more rehabilitative social interventions.
In the 1980s, a number of politicians in the United States also pushed “tough on crime” policies to address public fears about violent crime, and these policies have lingered ever since, leading to an extremely large prison population nationally, and calls for criminal justice reform. Many people put in prison during that era remain in jail today.
But not every state’s incarceration rate is the same. For example, some states have decriminalized drugs like marijuana in an effort to combat sending non-violent offenders to jail. Possession of marijuana had been found to be enforced with a racial bias, as well, so states that have decriminalized have worked to address glaring racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
New York by the numbers
– Total incarcerated, prison and jail: 70,389
— Prison population: 43,439
— Prison incarceration rate per 100,000: 224 (#41 highest among all states)
— Jail population (2013): 26,950
— Jail incarceration rate per 100,000 (2013): 170 (#41 highest among all states)
– Private prison population: 0
– Probation population: 88,879
– Parole population: 44,917
– Life sentences (2020): 8,006
— Life without parole (2020): 303
— Juvenile life without parole (2020): 0
– White imprisonment rate per 100,000: 96 (#48 highest among all states)
– Black imprisonment rate per 100,000: 754 (#47 highest among all states)
— Black to white ratio: 7.9
– Hispanic imprisonment rate per 100,000: 285 (#24 highest among all states)
— Hispanic to white ratio: 3.0
– Corrections expenditures: $3,020 million