Why are 2.3 million people in the US locked up? This infographic explains everything you need to know

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/03/14/why-are-2-3-million-people-in.html


I’m honestly surprised drug offenses are such a small pie slice. The way people talk, I expected it to be 115% of all convictions.


That’s 'cause the statisticians are all busy doing bong rips.


More literal than I expected from the headline.

I expected something like “racist legislation”, a la:


Don’t forget the anti-pot rhetoric. “No one is in prison for simple possession”

1 Like

Yeah, I was a bit surprised by that too. A couple of things to note: drug case more often end up in federal prison system, so about half of the federal prisoners are there drug offenses, but far more people overall are locked up in state prisons.

The other factor is the churn rate which is a bit hard to get a good picture for because of the confusing mix of “at any moment” and “rate per year” statistics. Based on these numbers, 111k people at any given time are in local jails on arrest for drug offenses that they don’t end up being convicted of. Based on a jail population of 600k and an arrest rate of 11 million and assuming proportional distribution, you might extrapolate that about 2 million people a year are arrested on drug charges, but most are never convicted and don’t go to prison – more than the entire long-term prison population put together. Even so, there are an equivalent number of people in jail on property and violent charges that don’t got convicted either.


The jail statistic seems particularly telling. Assuming people are mostly there for much less than a year, and given that most of them can’t be ending up in prison, it suggests there’s a much larger population which you might call “jail-adjacent”.

It’s hard to see someone having a nice middle-class life if they’ve spent a week in jail in the last several years. Nice people distance would distance themselves from you. Nice-person jobs would let you go. And that’s regardless of whether you actually did anything.


I wonder what this would look like including non-incarcerated convicts (house arrest, probation, community service, parole.)


this is a good thing!

I learned from this info graphic that lower incarceration rates are the cause for a Russian invasion.


“Local Jails, Not Convicted”: 443,000

That is a rate of 136 per 100,000 inhabitants.
And that’s just the pre-trial detainees.

That is about equal to the total incarceration rate for Portugal (137), 2.5 times that of Sweden (53) or Japan (47), and five times that of Liechtenstein (27).

But then, Liechtenstein could easily catch up to America’s incarceration rate: I am sure they could find 240 people guilty of major tax evasion of or fraud in no time if they really wanted to.


Some of my cousins are in that chart. They can’t avoid breaking even the simplest laws on a daily basis. They need to either be perpetually incarcerated or under some sort of 24/7 supervision that doesn’t currently exist.

What kind of laws would those be, might I ask?

I live in a relatively privileged part of a low-incarceration society (Austria), so I’m just too far a way from all that to be able to imagine it. I need more information in order to understand.

The profitable feedback loop is well established and now 25% of all prisoners on Earth are in American jails. Approximately 15% of that global total are black Americans. 1/3 of all black men in many Southern states can never vote again. Our prison state keeps some red states from being purple. So many disenfranchised tax-paying citizens would vote if they could. Taxation without representation.


I am aware of those statistics.
What was new to me was that the percentage of pre-trial detainees is higher than the total percentage of prisoners in many other countries.

So next time I meet or communicate with an American who thinks that “innocent until proven guilty” is a unique feature of the American legal system, I won’t need to explain to them that this was a part of Roman law since long before Common Law existed. Instead I can just point out that Americans still have a higher chance of being behind bars without trial at any moment, no matter what they might think about other countries’ judicial systems.

About the racial aspects of the American prison system - are there any reliable sources that have numbers for the different causes? Police racism, judicial racism, poverty, laws that punish some kinds of crime more harshly than others are probably all factors that contribute to the racial asymmetry, but from across the ocean, I can’t even guess about which factors are dominant, which are minor and which are just theoretical in nature.

Interestingly, the will to disenfranchise people is one of those things that the Brexiters are very proud of. Britain has been blatantly violating the European Convention on Human Rights and ignoring court rulings for some time now. And that’s just about allowing people to vote while they are in prison.

If you build your whole economy around exporting white collar crime and power drills, then you are a bit constrained in that regard.


One that immediately comes to mind: Don’t drive while intoxicated with a revoked license and an illegal firearm. While on probation.

There are a number of court-mandated things like not drinking alcohol, seeing your probation officer, not leaving the state, not associating with each other (on several occasions judges have ordered them not to see each other). All of those should be easy for a functioning human to accomplish, but not for them.

They did okay without our help in the Winter War.

(I’ve seen this cartoonist’s work before, and I’m pretty sure the last panel is meant sarcastically.)


…and then there’s the point that the EU’s collective military expenditure is about 400% of Russia’s.

The US is not required to defend Europe from the Russians, because the modern Russian military is a very pale shadow of the old Red Army. Any two of the major EU military powers (France, Germany, Italy, UK, etc) are more than a match for them.

The only way that Russia can seriously threaten western Europe is if they attack with the support of American allies.


This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.