Prisons, Jails, and the Corrections System: Overview

Related Chapters:
Drugs and Prison
Race and Prison
Crime, Arrests and Law Enforcement

Page last updated Oct. 16, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

21. Number of Adults in the US Sentenced to Any Form of Community Correctional Supervision

"At yearend 2015, an estimated 4,650,900 adults were under community supervision — a decrease of 62,300 offenders from yearend 2014 (figure 1).1 About 1 in 53 adults in the United States was under community supervision at yearend 2015. This population includes adults on probation, parole, or any other post-prison supervision, with probationers accounting for the majority (81%) of adults under community supervision. (See BJS definition of probation and parole textbox.)
"The 1.3% decline observed in the adult community corrections population was due to the drop in the probation population. The probation population declined from an estimated 3,868,400 offenders at yearend 2014 to 3,789,800 at yearend 2015 (figure 2). The parole population continued to rise with a 1.5% increase, from 857,700 offenders at yearend 2014 to 870,500 at yearend 2015."

Danielle Kaeble and Thomas P. Bonczar, "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2015" (Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dec. 2016), NCJ250230, p. 1.
https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm...
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22. Cost of Incarceration in the US

"Taxpayers spent about $68.7 billion in 2008 to feed, clothe, and provide medical care to prisoners in county jails, state and federal prisons and facilities housing legal and illegal aliens facing possible deportation.46 From 1982 to 2002, state and federal spending on corrections, not adjusted for inflation, rose by 423%, from $40 to $209 per U.S. resident.47 Corrections spending, as a share of state budgets, rose faster than health care, education, and natural resources spending from 1986 to 2001.48 The average cost of housing a prisoner for a year was about $24,000 in 2005, though rates vary from state to state.49"

Kirchhoff, Suzanne M., "Economic Impacts of Prison Growth," Congressional Research Service, (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, April 13, 2010), p. 9.
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mis...

23. Estimated Cost Savings From Shifting People from Jail or Prison to Probation or Parole

"The calculations in Table 4 assume that for each non-violent offender shifted from prison or jail (at an average cost of about $25,500 to $26,000 per year) to probation or parole (at average cost of $1,300 to $2,800 per year), government corrections systems would save $23,000 to $25,000 per inmate per year. Given the mix of prisoners by offense type (see Table 3), a 50 percent reduction in non-violent-offender inmates would save the federal government about $2.1 billion per year, state governments about $7.6 billion per year, and local governments about $7.2 billion per year, even after factoring in additional probation and parole costs. Across all three levels of government, these savings total $16.9 billion or about 22.8 percent of the total national spending on corrections in 2008."

Schmitt, John; Warner, Kris and Gupta, Sarika, "The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration," Center for Economic and Policy Research (Washington, DC: June 2010), p. 11.
http://www.cepr.net/documents/...

24. Many US Prisons Operating Above Their Highest Rated Capacity

"• At year-end 2016, a total of 14 states and the BOP met or exceeded the maximum measure of their prison facilities’ capacity, and 27 states and the BOP had a number of prisoners in their custody that met or exceeded their minimum number of beds (table 16).

"• Jurisdictions with more prisoners in custody than the maximum number of beds for which their facilities were designed, rated, or operationally intended included Illinois (138%), Nebraska (126%), Iowa (115%), the BOP (114%), Delaware (114%), Colorado (109%), and Virginia (108%)."

E. Ann Carson, PhD. Prisoners In 2016. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, January 2018, NCJ251149, p. 13.
https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?...
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25. Children in the US With a Parent Who Has Ever Been Incarcerated

"The increase in U.S. incarceration rates means that a sizable number of children experience parental incarceration. Between 5 million and 8 million children have had a resident parent (most often a father) incarcerated in jail, state prison, or federal prison, and this number excludes children with parents under other forms of correctional supervision such as probation or parole (Murphey & Cooper, 2015). A growing research literature conceptualizes parental incarceration as an adverse childhood experience (ACE) with considerable deleterious consequences for children's wellbeing (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015). Children exposed to parental incarceration, compared to their counterparts not exposed to parental incarceration, experience disadvantages across behavioral, educational, and health outcomes (for reviews, see Foster & Hagan, 2015; Johnson & Easterling, 2012; Murray, Farrington, & Sekol, 2012).

"Importantly, given social inequalities in exposure to criminal justice contact, many children of incarcerated parents are a demographically and socioeconomically disadvantaged group even prior to the experience of parental incarceration. For example, parental incarceration is more common among children of disadvantaged race/ethnic groups; about one-fourth (24%) of Black children and one-tenth (11%) of Hispanic children experience parental incarceration by age 17, compared to 4% of White children (Sykes & Pettit, 2014). Parental incarceration is also concentrated among children living in households with incomes below the poverty line, children of unmarried parents, and children residing in disadvantaged neighborhoods (Foster & Hagan, 2015; Wakefield & Wildeman, 2013)."

Kristin Turney, Adverse childhood experiences among children of incarcerated parents, Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 89, 2018, Pages 218-225, ISSN 0190-7409, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chil....
http://www.sciencedirect.com/s...

26. Prison Population In Various Nations and the World As a Whole

"• This report shows that more than 10.74 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world, either as pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners or having been convicted and sentenced. Figures for Eritrea, Somalia and the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea are not available and those for China and Guinea Bissau are incomplete (see footnote to Table 3 concerning China). Also missing are prisoners held under authorities not recognised internationally and those pre-trial prisoners who are held in police facilities and not included in published national prison population totals. The full total is therefore higher than 10.74 million and is likely to be well over 11 million.

"• There are more than 2.1 million prisoners in the United States of America, 1.65 million in China (plus unknown numbers in pre-trial detention and other forms of detention), 690,000 in Brazil, 583,000 in the Russian Federation, 420,000 in India, 364,000 in Thailand, 249,000 in Indonesia, 233,000 in Turkey, 230,000 in Iran, 204,000 in Mexico and 188,000 in the Philippines."

Walmsley, Roy, "World Prison Population List (Twelfth Edition)" (London, England: International Centre for Prison Studies, Birkbeck, University of London, Nov. 2018), p. 2.
http://prisonstudies.org/resea...
http://prisonstudies.org/sites...

27. Parental Incarceration and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

"Children exposed to parental incarceration were more likely to have other ACEs than children not exposed to parental incarceration. For example, only 14.3% of children exposed to parental incarceration had no other ACEs, compared to 72.2% of children not exposed to parental incarceration. Further, among children exposed to parental incarceration, about 28.9% experienced one other ACE (compared to 19.4% of children not exposed to parental incarceration), 21.2% experienced two other ACEs (compared to 5.5%), 16.4% experienced three other ACEs (compared to 1.8%), and 19.3% experienced four or more other ACEs (compared to 1.2%).

"Table 2 presents descriptive statistics of ACEs for two groups of children: those who experienced parental incarceration and those who did not experience parental incarceration. Children exposed to parental incarceration had more ACEs than those not exposed to parental incarceration (2.06 compared to 0.41, p < 0.001). Children exposed to parental incarceration were also more likely to report any ACE (85.7% compared to 27.8%, p < 0.001). Children exposed to parental incarceration were nine times more likely to experience household member abuse (31.9% compared to 3.4%, p < 0.001) and violence exposure (20.3% compared to 2.3%, p < 0.001). They were eight times more likely to experience household member substance problems (45.5% compared to 5.8%, p < 0.001); five times more likely to experience parental death (11.8% compared to 2.5%, p < 0.001); and four times more likely to experience household member mental illness (24.1% compared to 6.4%, p < 0.001) and parental divorce or separation (72.7% compared to 20.5%, p < 0.001)."

Kristin Turney, Adverse childhood experiences among children of incarcerated parents, Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 89, 2018, Pages 218-225, ISSN 0190-7409, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chil....
http://www.sciencedirect.com/s...

28. Nations with the Highest Prison Population Rates

"• The countries with the highest prison population rate – that is, the number of prisoners per 100,000 of the national population – are the United States (655 per 100,000), followed by El Salvador (604), Turkmenistan (552), U.S. Virgin Islands (542), Thailand (526), Cuba (510), Maldives (499), Northern Mariana Islands – U.S.A. (482), British Virgin Islands (470), Rwanda (464), Bahamas (438), Seychelles (437), Grenada (435), St Vincent and the Grenadines (426), Guam–U.S.A. (404) and Russian Federation (402).

"• However, more than half of all countries and territories (53%) have rates below 150 per 100,000.

"• The world prison population rate, based on United Nations estimates of national population levels, is 145 per 100,000."

Walmsley, Roy, "World Prison Population List (Twelfth Edition)" (London, England: International Centre for Prison Studies, Birkbeck, University of London, Nov. 2018), p. 2.
http://prisonstudies.org/resea...
http://prisonstudies.org/sites...

29. Prison Population Growth

"For the first time in nearly 40 years, the number of state prisoners in the United States has declined. Survey data compiled by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, in partnership with the Association of State Correctional Administrators, indicate that as of January 1, 2010, there were 1,404,053 persons under the jurisdiction of state prison authorities, 4,777 (0.3 percent) fewer than there were on December 31, 2008.1 This marks the first year-to-year drop in the state prison population since 1972.
"In this period, however, the nation’s total prison population increased by 2,061 people because of a jump in the number of inmates under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The federal count rose by 6,838 prisoners, or 3.4 percent in 2009, to an all-time high of 208,118.
"Prior to 1972, the number of prisoners had grown at a steady rate that closely tracked growth rates in the general population. Between 1925 (the first year national prison statistics were officially collected) and 1972, the number of state prisoners increased from 85,239 to 174,379.2
"Starting in 1973, however, the prison population and imprisonment rates began to rise precipitously. This change was fueled by stiffer sentencing and release laws and decisions by courts and parole boards, which sent more offenders to prison and kept them there for longer terms.3 In the nearly five decades between 1925 and 1972, the prison population increased by 105 percent; in the four decades since, the number of prisoners grew by 705 percent.4 Adding local jail inmates to state and federal prisoners, the Public Safety Performance Project calculated in 2008 that the overall incarcerated population had reached an all-time high, with 1 in 100 adults in the United States living behind bars.5"

Pew Center on the States, "Prison Count 2010: State Population Declines for the First Time in 38 Years," (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, April 2010), p. 2.
https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publ...
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30. Incarceration Rates for Various Nations

"Prison population rates vary considerably between different regions of the world, and between different parts of the same continent. For example:

"• in Africa the median rate for western African countries is 53 whereas for southern African countries it is 244;

"• in the Americas the median rate for south American countries is 233 whereas for central American countries it is 316;

"• in Asia the median rate for countries in southern Asia (mainly the Indian subcontinent) is 88 whereas for central Asian countries it is 160.5;

"• in Europe the median rate for western European countries is 81 whereas for the countries spanning Europe and Asia (e.g. the Russian Federation and Turkey) it is 268;

"• in Oceania the median rate is 182.5."

Walmsley, Roy, "World Prison Population List (Twelfth Edition)" (London, England: International Centre for Prison Studies, Birkbeck, University of London, Nov. 2018), p. 2.
http://prisonstudies.org/resea...
http://prisonstudies.org/sites...

31. Estimated Number of Young Adults in the US With a Parent Who Has Ever Spent Time in Jail or Prison

"The prevalence of any PI [Parental Incarceration] was 12.5% with the 95% confidence interval (CI) of 11.3% to 13.8%. The distribution of incarceration status by category was: neither parent (87.5%, 95% CI: 86.2%–88.7%), father only (9.9%, 95% CI: 8.9%–10.9%), mother only (1.7%, 95% CI: 1.4%–2.0%), and both parents (0.9%, 95% CI: 0.7%–1.2%). A significant association was found between race and PI. Black and Hispanic individuals had the highest prevalence of PI, 20.6% and 14.8%, compared with 11.9% for white individuals and 11.6% for those classified as other. Pairwise comparison indicated the black and white prevalence rates were significantly different."

Note: Regarding study sample size: "The current study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a 4-wave longitudinal study following a nationally representative probability sample of adolescents in grades 7 through 12 in the 1994–1995 school year.46 The first 3 waves of Add Health data were collected from April to December 1995, from April to August 1996, and from August 2001 to April 2002. The fourth wave of data was collected in 2007 and 2008. The full sample for Wave 4 included 15 701 or 80.3% of the eligible participants from Wave 1. The response rates for Waves 1, 2, 3, and 4 were 79.0%, 88.6%, 77.4%, and 80.3%, respectively. The mean ages of participants during the 4 waves of data collection were 15.7 years, 16.2 years, 22.0 years, and 28.8 years, respectively.

"The current study was based on 14,800 participants who were interviewed during Wave 1 and Wave 4 and have a sampling weight. Of the 15,701 participants who participated in both Wave 1 and Wave 4 interviews, 14,800 participants have a sampling weight at Wave 4 interview that could be used to compute population estimates. For data analysis, data describing participants’ sociodemographic characteristics from Wave 1 of the Add Health study were combined with Wave 4 self-reported health outcomes and PI history."

Rosalyn D. Lee, Xiangming Fang and Feijun Luo, "The Impact of Parental Incarceration on the Physical and Mental Health of Young Adults." Pediatrics 2013;131;e1188; originally published online March 18, 2013; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-0627.
http://pediatrics.aappublicati...
http://pediatrics.aappublicati...

32. Prisons Over Capacity

"At yearend 2006, 23 States and the Federal system operated at more than 100% of their highest capacity. Seventeen States operated at between 90% and 99% of their highest capacity. The Federal prison system was operating at 37% above its rated capacity at yearend 2006.
"By comparison, in 1995 States operated at 114% of their highest capacity and 125% of their lowest reported capacity. The Federal system was operating at 26% over reported capacity in 1995."

Sabol, William J., PhD, Couture, Heather, and Harrison, Paige M., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2006 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, December 2007), NCJ219416, pp. 5-6.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub...

33. Number Of People Serving Time In Federal Prison, by Most Serious Offense - 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2008-2015

In 2015, federal prisons held a total of 185,917 sentenced adult prisoners. Of those, 13,700 had a violent offense as the most serious charge for which they had been sentenced, 11,200 had a property offense as the most serious charge for which they had been sentenced, 92,000 had a drug offense as the most serious charge for which they had been sentenced, and 67,500 had a public order offense as the most serious charge for which they had been sentenced. Additionally, there were 1,400 for whom the charges were unknown or unspecified.

Violent Offense Categories: Homicide, Robbery, Other Violent
Property Offense Categories: Burglary, Fraud, Other Property
Public Order Offense Categories: Immigration, Weapons, Other Public Order

Click here for the complete data table.

E. Ann Carson, PhD, and Elizabeth Anderson. Prisoners In 2015. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dec. 2016, NCJ250229, Appendix Table 6, p. 31.
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E. Ann Carson, PhD, "Prisoners in 2014" (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sept. 2015), NCJ248955, Appendix Table 5, p. 30.
https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm...
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E. Ann Carson, PhD, "Prisoners in 2013" (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sept. 2014), NCJ247282, Revised Sept. 30, 2014, Table 15, p. 17.
https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm...
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Carson, E. Ann, and Sabol, William J., "Prisoners in 2011" (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dec. 2012), NCJ239808, Table 11, p. 10.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub...
Guerino, Paul; Harrison, Paige M.; and Sabol, William J., "Prisoners in 2010," Bureau of Justice Statistics, (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, December 2011), NCJ 236096, p. 30.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub...
West, Heather C.; Sabol, William J.; and Greenman, Sarah J., "Prisoners in 2009," Bureau of Justice Statistics, (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, December 2010), NCJ 231675, Appendix Table 18, p. 33.
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Beck, Allen J. and Harrison, Paige M., "Prisoners in 2000," Bureau of Justice Statistics, (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, December 2011), NCJ 188207, Table 19, p. 12.
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Gilliard, Darrell K. and Beck, Allan J., "Prisoners in 1994," Bureau of Justice Statistics, (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, August 1995), NCJ 151654, Table 13, p. 10.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub...

34. Parents in Prison

"An estimated 809,800 prisoners of the 1,518,535 held in the nation's prisons at midyear 2007 were parents of minor children, or children under age 18. Parents held in the nation's prisons -- 52% of state inmates and 63% of federal inmates -- reported having an estimated 1,706,600 minor children, accounting for 2.3% of the U.S. resident population under age 18."

Glaze, Lauren E. and Maruschak, Laura M., "Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children" (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Aug. 2008), NCJ222984, p. 1.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub...

35. Prisons & Jails - Data - 3-26-12

(Corrections Industry Workers) "The corrections sector is a large and growing part of the labor force. According to the Census Bureau, more than 770,000 people worked in the U.S. correctional industry in 2008.60 The U.S. Department of Labor, in its 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook, estimates there were about 620,000 guards, probation officers, prison supervisors and court bailiffs in 2008.61"

Kirchhoff, Suzanne M., "Economic Impacts of Prison Growth," Congressional Research Service, (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, April 13, 2010), p. 12.
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mis...

36. Impact on Young People of Incarceration of Their Fathers

"Paternal incarceration, however, was found associated with a greater number of health outcomes than maternal incarceration. Also, paternal incarceration was found to be associated with both physical and mental health problems, whereas maternal incarceration was found associated only with poor mental health.
"For paternal incarceration, with the exception of HIV/AIDS, larger associations were found for mental health as compared with physical health outcomes. Caution should be taken in understanding the significance of the finding related to HIV/AIDS, given its low overall sample prevalence and wide CI. If this is a true association, it may be related to paternal HIV/AIDS status and other risk factors related to father absence. Given the high correlation between HIV/AIDS and incarceration, increased odds of HIV/AIDS in offspring could come from perinatal transmission. However, social factors may also explain this relationship."

Rosalyn D. Lee, Xiangming Fang and Feijun Luo, "The Impact of Parental Incarceration on the Physical and Mental Health of Young Adults." Pediatrics 2013;131;e1188; originally published online March 18, 2013; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-0627.
http://pediatrics.aappublicati...
http://pediatrics.aappublicati...

37. Physical and Mental Health Impact of Parental Incarceration on Their Children

"As shown in Table 2, bivariate analyses indicate PI [Parental Incarceration] was significantly associated with 8 of the 16 health conditions (heart disease, asthma, migraines, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD], HIV/AIDS, and fair/poor health). With the exception of heart disease and HIV/AIDS, individuals who reported neither parent had an incarceration history had the lowest prevalence rates of these 8 health conditions. Individuals who reported father incarceration only had the highest prevalence rates of 3 of the 8 health conditions (heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and fair/poor health); whereas individuals who reported mother incarceration only were highest on 2 conditions (depression and anxiety) and individuals who reported incarceration of both parents were highest on 3 conditions (asthma, migraine, and PTSD)."

Rosalyn D. Lee, Xiangming Fang and Feijun Luo, "The Impact of Parental Incarceration on the Physical and Mental Health of Young Adults." Pediatrics 2013;131;e1188; originally published online March 18, 2013; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-0627.
http://pediatrics.aappublicati...
http://pediatrics.aappublicati...

38. Adults Under Correctional Control in the US

"With far less notice, the number of people on probation or parole has skyrocketed to more than 5 million, up from 1.6 million just 25 years ago. This means that 1 in 45 adults in the United States is now under criminal justice supervision in the community, and that combined with those in prison and jail, a stunning 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent, is under some form of correctional control. The rates are drastically elevated for men (1 in 18) and blacks (1 in 11) and are even higher in some high-crime inner-city neighborhoods."

Pew Center on the States, "One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections," (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, March 2009), p. 1.
http://www.pewstates.org/uploa...

39. International Incarceration Comparisons

"The U.S. incarcerates nearly 2.4 million people,13 including people held pretrial and those sentenced for an offense; if they were all in one state, it would be the 36th most populated, between New Mexico and Nevada.14 No other country in the world incarcerates as many people as the United States. China, a country of 1.3 billion people—about four times as many people as the U.S.15—is second, incarcerating 1.6 million people.16

Petteruti, Amanda and Fenster, Jason, "Finding Direction: Expanding Criminal Justice Options by Considering Policies of Other Nations," Justice Policy Institute (Washington, DC: April 2011), p. 10-11.
http://www.justicepolicy.org/u...

40. Prison Population Growth

"Since sentenced prisoners made up 96% of the prison population in 2011, it was expected that the changes in the sentenced prison population in 2011 mirrored those in the total prison population. The total number of sentenced prisoners declined by 1.0%, and the sentenced prison population in the federal system increased by 3.4%. The sentenced state prison population declined by 1.6%.
"Between 2010 and 2011, the imprisonment rate—the number of sentenced prisoners divided by the U.S. resident population times 100,000—declined from 500 to 492 per 100,000 U.S. residents (table 6). The imprisonment rate has declined consistently since 2007 when there were 506 persons imprisoned per 100,000 U.S. residents. The rate in 2011 was comparable to the rate observed in 2005 (492 per 100,000)."

Carson, E. Ann, and Sabol, William J., "Prisoners in 2011" (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dec. 2012), NCJ239808, p. 6.
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