Mass Incarceration in 2022 (via Prison Policy Initiative)

Last month the Prison Policy Initiative released its report, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022.” This new report provides a detailed look at where and why people are locked up in the U.S. and dispels some modern myths to focus attention on the real drivers of mass incarceration and overlooked issues that call for reform.

As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — it’s more important than ever that we get the facts straight and understand the big picture. 

All facts and figures below are directly from the Prison Policy Initiative report.

Our country continues incarcerating people at higher rates than any other country in the world.

In a typical year, approximately 600,000 people enter prison, while people go to jail at least 10,000,000 times. If you loaded all those people on a bus, you’d have full busses parked end-to-end from New York City to San Francisco.

A person who goes to jail has a one-in-four chance of being arrested again within the same calendar year, although many don’t get out of jail in the first place.

The median bail for felonies is $10,000, or about eight months’ income for justice-impacted individuals. Most people who go to jail stay there despite being presumed innocent until proven guilty.

One-in-five incarcerated people have been locked up for drug offenses.

There are over a million drug possession arrests each year, six times higher than drug sales arrests. We’re arresting far more people for being addicted to drugs (a medical condition) than we are the suppliers who enable their addictions.

Recidivism rates remain chronically high, no matter how you measure recidivism (rearrest vs. re-conviction vs. reincarceration).

Around 82% of people who have been incarcerated in a state or federal prison will be rearrested within ten years. The vast majority of those will be rearrested within three years, with more than half rearrested in the first year. We as a country are failing at keeping people from returning to prison. Any narrative of prison as rehabilitative falls down in the face of these statistics.

In fact, beyond actual rehabilitative care, we know the main indicator of success after prison is the age at which a person is released. People grow out of violent crime; the height of violence tends to occur through late adolescence and early adulthood. Yet we as a country continue to incarcerate people with decades-long sentences, keeping people far beyond the age at which they would likely eschew violent behavior.

The main part of the story of mass incarceration in the United States of 2022 is this:

Though prison and jail populations decreased through the height of Covid, it wasn’t because of changes to policies or sweeping reforms. It was mainly because the court system slowed almost to a halt. As soon as the courts began holding hearings and trials, prison populations began to swell, heading toward pre-Covid numbers.

This is but a piece of the whole pie that makes up the Prison Policy Initiative’s report. There are many nuances amid the data, but the gist is this: mass incarceration is a problem that is not going away. We at Turn90 believe we know how to solve one tiny slice, but we know we cannot fix it all. We can simply continue to learn, adjust, and create a new direction after prison, one man at a time.