On any given day, U.S. jails now hold more than 730,000 people. While most of the urban poor are susceptible to harsher treatment from law enforcement which has resulted in the high incarceration rate of minorities, it is in small cities and rural communities where the prison population is growing. As major cities move towards decarceration and close jails, smaller cities and rural communities are incarcerating people at higher rates, and investing heavily in jail expansion at the expense of taxpayers.
Why This Matters: The United States is the global leader in prison population, which has implications on taxpayer spending. In 2011, it was reported that the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that local communities spent $22.2 billion on jails. In some states, it’s as much as $60,000 per inmate and is often the case that taxpayers foot the bill for meals, housing and securing people in state and federal penitentiaries.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimated that local communities spent $22.2 billion on jails
The prison system has become a big business. Did you know that for-profit prison companies started in response to the government’s inability to handle the skyrocketing incarcerated population? The government uses these private companies to build and manage local jails. Private companies earn billions of dollars for services to incarcerated people often with little oversight, ranging from phones, to medical devices and facilities.
It’s especially stunning when you breakdown the racial makeup of U.S. prisons that continues to look substantially different from the demographics of the country as a whole. African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population, but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners.
Situational Awareness: In 2017, there were 1,549 black prisoners for every 100,000 black adults, nearly six times the imprisonment rate for whites (272 per 100,000) and nearly double the rate for Hispanics (823 per 100,000). Though Blacks have long outnumbered whites in U.S. prisons, there has been a significant decline in the number of Black prisoners in the last decade. Even with the decline, in 2017, blacks still make up one-third of the prison population, and are still continuing to have a detrimental effect on our communities, in terms of employment opportunities, education and even infant mortality.