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America's Obsession with Incarceration

Updated on June 7, 2014

One out of every four people in prison around the world, reside in an American prison. That is 25%! We sadly have only a fraction of the worlds population, surely not enough to support this kind of incarceration. So one must ask themselves, is America really filled with the worst of the worst, or are we just obsessed with putting people in jail?

One of the reasons we have such a high incarceration rate is because the length of stay of each prisoner is so much higher. We incarcerate per year as many as other countries, however in America we keep them a whole lot longer. Since 1926 when the incarcerated were counted, the number of people in jail have increased 20 times, whereas the population has grown only 2.8 times in the same time period. More interestingly, the largest increase was recorded after 1980 when the “war on drugs” was established as well as mandatory sentences.

The amount of people in American jail is 735 people out of 100,000 residents. Of adults, 1 in a 100 were in jail and 1 in 31 were under probational supervision. Some would say that this high incarceration rate has helped, since 1980 crime rates have declined by over 25%.

Another statistic worth mentioning is the who is actually in jail. Over 27% of people that are in jail are non-residents. 1 in 11 are black, 1 in 89 are women and 1 in 45 are white. The predominate statistics show that we lock up everyone who is not white or the largest majority. That comes down to over 3% of our adult population is in jail. The second highest rate of incarceration is Russia with 577 out of 100,000 in jail.

Beyond the fact that we love putting people in jail and keeping them under probation, you have to imagine the amount of money that is involved in keeping people in jail and under supervision. It cost on average 22 thousand dollars a year to house an inmate and several thousand per person to keep people on probation. That equals billions of dollars to keep up with our obsession of incarceration. As one who was once the statistic, there is some other things that should be thought of.

Most of the people in jail have families, children even. The amount of children in foster care has also risen substantially since the war on drugs began in 1980. Beyond money and life’s wasted, one should consider what comes out of the jail. 1 out of 4 inmates will return to jail within 2 years of leaving prison or jail. That statistics can be thought of in many ways, we are either making better criminals in jail or the probationary period is too long and too stringent.

So I think with this information, why do we not have another way to help these people. A very small percentage of those in jail are there for violent offenses, less than 20%, why can we not find a better way. Maybe America needs to find something else to do with all these offenders, especially when over ½ are in jail because of drugs. Would it not be cheaper to put them in rehab then in jail? And because of this countries actions, what is happening to all of the families and children involved? Drug abuse rises as poverty does and in the end, we have left over 50% of our children without one or more of their parents, who in turn have an ever higher chance of following in their parent’s footsteps. So I ask, is there not a better way?


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    • kaiyan717 profile image

      kaiyan717 5 years ago from West Virginia

      I think you are right Unnamed Herald, it is big business, billions of dollars a year. It seems that everything is tied to money in the end, I have heard of judges sending kids to certain lock-ups for a kick back.

      Thanks for the positive feedback Kate McBride, I try to know the full subject before I write about it, it is a learning experiece for me as well. Iam not sure what alternatives there are to jail, it just seems to start a viscious cycle of adults not knowing how to take care of themselves and then children and families suffer.

    • Kate Mc Bride profile image

      Kate McBride 5 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      There is a very high incidence of incarceration in America as you say but it is difficult to think of a practical alternative to prison and sadly, many of them re-offend and end up back in jail when they are released. Interesting and well-researched hub. Thanks for sharing

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I think there are two big reasons we have such a high percentage in prison: 1) The war on drugs (as you mentioned) where drug users are imprisoned-- and the low threshold between a drug "user" and a drug "seller" and 2) the privatization of prisons-- it's simply big business. There's big bucks to be made in the prison trade, from security to prison construction to prison supplies.

    • kaiyan717 profile image

      kaiyan717 5 years ago from West Virginia

      Your right Jed, that could be one of the reasons that America has so many in jail.

    • Jed Fisher profile image

      Jed Fisher 5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Other countries have conscription; they draft their young men into the military and keep them controlled and supervised during the most volatile time of their lives. America does not do that, and it is a big part of the reason for the immense prison population.

      That, and the rest of the world sends their riff-raff to America and we lock them up.