United States: #1 in Inmates, Prisons, and Solitary Confinement

Prison Path

According to Buzzfeed Politics, there are 10 ways that America is Number One in the world. We have the most gold reserves, the most powerful military, the largest Gross Domestic Product at $15.56 trillion, the most Olympic medals and the United States has more inmates, more prisons and the most inmates in solitary confinement in the entire world.  

Incarceration Rates Infographic by Prison Path
U.S. Incarceration Rates & Prison Statistics Infographic by Prison Path

Prison Statistics & Incarceration Rates in the United States

  • The United States has 2.3 million inmates in federal, state, and local prisons. This is the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world.
  • The United States  incarceration rate is five times the rate of incarceration in England, eight times the rate in Germany, and 12 times the rate in Japan.
  • There are 4575 prisons operating today in the United States. This is more than four times the prisons in Russia. Russia currently holds second place in this category with 1029 prisons.

There are several reasons for the explosion in our incarceration rate. After the late 1970s, government policy was focused on winning the so called “War on Drugs.” In 1980, nonviolent drug offenders were less than 10% of the prison population. Now nonviolent drug offenders are 25% of the prison population. In Europe, most drug users are not jailed, but sent to outpatient clinics

Although violent crime has decreased, mandatory sentencing and the three strike laws have removed discretion from many courts in sentencing offenders who were not true candidates for long sentences. For example, In Rummel v. Estelle, the Supreme Court upheld a life sentence with the possibility of parole for William James Rummel. Rummel’s felony fraud crime amounted to $120.75. It was Mr. Rummel’s third offense. He had refused to return money received as payment for unsatisfactory repairs of an air conditioning unit.

Private prisons are big business in the United States. Profits for the major private prison companies are massive and the private companies are even paid for empty beds.There is also a lack of effective rehabilitation programs in our prisons and insufficient support for reentry programs which have contributed to the high recidivism rate.

Prison Statistics: Solitary Confinement in The United States

The United States also leads the world with the most inmates, 80,000, incarcerated insolitary confinement. Prisoners in isolation are often confined to small cells without windows, with little to no access to the outside world for years. Inmates are confined to these cells for 23 hours a day.  Such extreme isolation has serious psychological effects on inmates who will eventually be released to their community. According to several state studies, 50% of prison suicides occur in solitary confinement.

***On a personal note, my incarceration never involved the solitary confinement suffered by thousands of inmates throughout the United States. However, I had a small taste of solitary confinement while in the Maryland State correctional system. It occurred while in transit from one prison.


Start the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *