Infographic: U.S. Incarceration Rates

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Today’s smart chart comes from the American Civil Liberties Union and illustrates some of the more staggering statistics related to America’s ballooning incarceration rates. For example, with only five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. boasts 25 percent of the world’s prison population. (via Baratunde Thurston and Upworthiest)

View the chart after the jump.

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  • umabird

    And despite these numbers, the real criminals are still free, on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill! 

  • RTV

    It would be interesting to see these statistics compared against a more progressive government and a repressive government (say, China, for example).

  • Jeanne DeFlorio

    We have traveled the path of incarceration of our people for non violent offenses along racial lines.  The new Jim Crow has been with us since the beginning of the Drug Wars and was strengthened with mandatory minimums which limits Judges discretionary sentencing.  Just another excuse to lock up so many Americans.  We have built a prison industrial complex in the US and it is costly, hurting families and not producing much but ill effects.  What does this actually say about us?   

  • Jordan Hammond

    They compare in this article. We have more, period. More then Russia, more then China, more then Iran… Per capita, or straight up numbers, we’re number 1, we’re number 1, can I get a chant going? 

  • Jordan Hammond

    Give a man a gun, he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, he can rob the world.

  • Imani Burrell

    And yet 1 Bernie Madoff has stolen more than nearly all of them combined.

  • Norman

    With the end of manufacturing in this country it’s hard to believe that we can somehow turn this ship around.  The so called free market has a veracious appetite and our underclass is the entree.

  • Rain Burroughs

    I was listening to NPR (National Pentagon Radio) the other day and heard that the law firm handling restitution to the bilked victims have collected 550 million dollars in fees, and have distributed 330 million dollars to victims.  The money comes from a fund that is put together by customers.  Nice. 

  • Ace

    so why don’t they just ship them over to the war zone and let them fight the enemy.  And if they live… then let them come back as a free man.

  • Ginchinchili

    We’ve totally lost control of our country. The question is, what are we going to do about it? We don’t even have a functioning democracy any more. Our politicians are chosen for us and then they are pressured to do the bidding of powerful special interests.

    Whatever your opinion is about Obama, it should be understood that he is as good as our system will allow. In fact, in many ways he slipped through the cracks. This is why he’s been limited in what he could even TRY to do for Americans. He has to get through the ruling plutocracy and then through the Republicans in our Congress, all while the rightwing media propaganda machine attacks him relentlessly at every angle. They are trying desperately to paint Obama as a leftwing radical. Had Obama tried to do more of what he’d like to do for America, it would have made it too easy for the right to define him as a radical leftist. Obama understands this, and it took me a while to realize that, because I used to be very critical of him for not trying to do more, for example, adding a public option to the Healthcare bill. He knew that would be impossible and the only thing it would accomplish would be his defeat in the 2012 election. We’re up against a juggernaut of power that has every advantage except one–we have the advantage in numbers. But not by as much as one would assume because rightwing propaganda keeps about 40% of the population hopelessly out of reach. It’s a hell of a mess.

  • Anonymous

    Adjusting for race, the US looks much more like other civilized countries. 

    The fact is that we have more blacks and so-called “hispanics.”  That means more prisoners per capita.  If the US was 100% black, nearly 7% of the population would be behind bars… if it were 100% mestizo or aboriginal, it would be less than 3%.  If the US were 100% white, the number drops to less than 1%

  • Lee Harrington

    The legalization and taxation of drugs and the repeal of “three strikes” of non-violent crime would be a huge help.  America: Land of the “free” and the brave; land of law (more written than all the rest of the world combined) and order.  God help us. I read recently (anecdotal) where a federal appellate judge stated that every man, woman and child in the United States will break the law(s) and most will not know it, even as he confessed that he, too, must have broken some law somewhere.

  • Ginchinchili

     Oh, I see. So criminality is determined by race. Interesting. And, as Adolf Hitler and the KKK argued, since the Aryan race is the most superior we have fewer criminals. Wow. And all this time I was thinking it had to do with poverty, education, and opportunity. Silly me. Thanks for setting me straight, Ed Twidley. German ancestry?

  • Ginchinchili

     I think we should all be in jail :O) This country has fallen off the edge of our flat, no global warming, world.

  • Luke

     I know first hand what the prison population is…I have spent over 35 years behind bars.
    It is now big business.  It destroys the humanity of those incarcerated.  It makes prisoners more violent.  Less compassionate.  More aggressive.

     The worst aspect of prison is that the prisoner builds a wall within his-self.  To keep those decent aspects from being destroyed by the inhumanity of a world of hate.  The most harmful result is that point where the wall within becomes stronger than the walls without.

     Then throw in a release with nothing,  nowhere to go, no-one to help  and you leave the ex-con alone, angry, confused, frustrated..afraid.

     Inside a prisoner is a dream: 

      The house was in post-move disarray.  Boxes haphazardly scattered hither and yon.  Some empty, some full and most so chaotically packed as to require a masters organizational skills.  In this case, my wife.

     Straightening, what felt like a permanently bent-over posture, I arched my back and decided to check on my two daughters.  Heading upstairs I came across my youngest’s favorite doll sitting forlornly on a step near the top.  Already forming an admonishment regarding the hazards involved in items on stairways I was met b;y our oldest daughter halfway down the hallway.
     “How are you doing with your room Becky?” I asked.  Before she could answer her little sister came out of  her room. Extending the doll to her I said, “I found your doll on the steps Cass, and “I don’t want it. Its broke and Becky says its too ‘tore to fix'” came her hurt reply.
     Cass was a silent crier. Her chest would heave and her breath would catch. Tears would roll down her cheeks but she wouldn’t make a sound.  It would tug at me all the more for it’s quiet.
     Knitting my brow in question I looked at Becky.  In her best put-upon-why-me expression she blurted “I’ve kissed that stupid doll a hundred times and I’m getting too old for baby stuff!”  Strangely the box I’d been puzzling over crossed my thoughts. I looked from one to the other and said “Okay girls, downstairs.” “But dad, I..” Becky began. “No. Break-time.  Downstairs!” I ordered.
     Moving a box from the sofa, I sat in the middle. Cassie sat close and pulled my arm about her. Ignoring the doll I still held. Becky sat farther away. I put my arm on the back of the sofa. An opening.
     Becky sighed with teenage impatience and said “Dad, I have work..” “Shhh” I said. “Just sit with me a bit.” After a moment I began with an apology. “Girls, I’ve meant to tell you that I am sorry. I know it’s hard on you Becky, leaving all of your friends.” “And Cassie, I know a room all to yourself probably makes you a bit lonely without your sister. I know it will get better, but seems scary now.” I said.
     Becky tried to say something again but I just kept talking. “If it weren’t for you girls and your mom I probably wouldn’t  even half try.” I admitted. Here’s a better school and a nicer  neighborhood, and I think the extra room will help us all.” I added. “No matter how disrupted you both are now, I need you to know I’m trying hard to do my best because I love you so much.”
     Before I could go any farther Becky slid next to me and said “Shhh, Dad. Its okay.” So we just sat there awhile, arms full of love. Then I felt the doll being pulled from my grasp as Becky rose from the sofa. “Come on Cass, I’ll kiss Baby and make her all better, heading for the stairs.  “And you can stay in my room with me when you get lonely.” She offered unselfishly.
     Seeing them go up the stairs, Becky now holding Cassies hand in one and something more than a doll in the other, I felt time slipping by.
     My wife came in from the kitchen and set empty boxes by the door.  She looked at the lack of progress I’d made and just shook her head when I shrugged my shoulders.  She came and put her arms around me and I hugged her tightly.  “Something Wrong?”  She asked. “Nothing kissing a doll won’t fix.” I replied. She looked up at me with the lop-sided grin she used to say “you’re  goofy.” And I smiled, breathing in the scent of her shampoo as I kissed her on the brow.

    I woke at 5:30. Single. Childless. 47 years old and in prison… A gray dawn with a dream stuck in my head. Nothing left.



  • Luke

    Most of them feel the same way.

  • Luke


  • Doc

    Interesting statistics. Take it one step further. How many of the world prisons are privatized, non government owned. That might explain even more.

  • Blue Sky

    First, comparing the US against the world is a bad metric–it should have been a comparison of G8 countries (most countries can’t afford to have large prison populations, after all). Second, it should have mentioned the crime rate of the US–in other words, is incarcerating people making us safer? If so, it might justify these high rates, but I believe it would show the opposite. Finally, it should have mentioned the recidivism rates: is jail time preventing people from re-offending?

  • Lee Zaslofsky

    A Stalinist solution. During WWII, soldiers who broke the rules, were placed in “Shtraf” (Punishment) battalions, and assigned tasks like walking through minefields to set off any mines so the regular troops could follow. If you were injured, you were rehabilitated, and were allowed to serve again in the regular forces. You had to be injured — no credit for “good time”.

    It’s not nice to see a patriotic American advocating a Stalinist program of “rehab”. 

    But it’s great to see that Ace regards service in the US military as equivalent to doing time in prison. I couldn’t agree more! 

    Question: why does the US send so many of its young people to prison or into the military, which, according to Ace, is much the same thing? What has America got against its young people?

  • Lisanne Santon

    This country of ours is a joke. Wake up, Sheeple!!!!!

  • Lisanne Santon

    Our country is a joke in this regard. Wake up, sheeple!!!!!

  • Brent Walker

    Why the Powers That Be allow for privatized prisons is beyond imagining. Profiting from the incarceration of another human being is morally repugnant.

  • Anonymous

    growth of the prison industrial complex as a result of the
    privatization of prisons is the real crime in this country. We are
    creating generations of disenfranchised people with no hope for a
    future. This is just one reason that the “American Dream” is now harder
    to achieve in America than in most other industrialized countries. We
    need to stop jailing people for drugs and immigration and stop creating
    incentives for organizations to incarcerate more people. This is a
    national disgrace.

  • Anonymous

    Because the majority of people in prison in the US did nothing more than most other people in the US have done, they just got caught. For that matter, the rate of drug use among blacks and whites is about the same but the rate of incarceration for drug offenses is multiple times higher for blacks than for whites. This just proves that the reason for their being in jail has as much to do about racism as it does about the rule of law.

    Your solution IS a totalitarian approach. We should be better than that, and we should be better than the system we have, but until the plutocrats no longer exert power over the rest of us, the US is NOT the “land of the free,” but we are all slaves to the ultra wealthy.

  • Kurt

    And yet Dick Cheney and George Bush still walk free. Amazing.

  • Mario Vincent

    You Sir are a heck of a great writer/storyteller. My eyes are watering as I write this.
    I don’t know your crime,if any, but you seem like an extraordinarily good person . I wish you well. Peace My Brother.

  • Wolf Braun

    “Staggering” doesn’t begin to describe this. It’s an industry. Sadly, our Conservative government in Canada wants to go down this road as well…. fabricating data to close older prisons and build new mega prisons and then sell them to the private sector. Disgusting !

  • Avek

    Wow. Fantastic writings of a soul heart expressed. You are your dream. Dream. Never stop.

  • Ben Thare

    Better take heed before you become part of that 25%. It’s easy, no effort or crime required.

  • John Korkow

    80% are incarcerated because of an addiction related conviction…

  • Per Praestholm

    We must remember that as long as we have for profit prisons it is not i the best interest of our prison system that the offender doesn’t return.

  • Jeff Wade

    Rain, the NPR piece makes it clear that it’s not “the law firm,” but a whole bunch of lawyers. Their fees are currently at 600 million. They have recovered 9.3 billion, of which about half has been distributed and half is in reserve awaiting further court rulings. The story is at

    I don’t know where you got the idea that “the money comes from a fund that is put together by customers.” I see nothing in the story suggesting that.

  • openlyblack

    It is no accident that those who are legal hardliners are also committed to defunding education all in the interest of “fiscal responsibility”. The prison industrial complex is being fed by the poorly funded, under staffed mis-education system.

  • Phil

    Incredible–but if they won’t fund education I guess they have to have somewhere to put the uneducated, unemployable.

  • Brooks W Wilson

    An inevitable result of privatization of prisons and using inmates to make consumer dogs and to work for private contractors. Slavery, American style.

  • Phyllis Murphy

    Huge disparities…. should set off alarms in any of these categories. Finding solutions are not so easy. And yet… we continue to focus on lesser “things” than people. It seems that in an educated society, we would learn the essentials in life…. Food, Safety, Health, Love, and Faith. (not to be categorized in any priority here).

  • Anonymous

    Prisons have been privatized. Follow the money.

  • SHJ

    Perhaps it’s because countries like India don’t have a good legal system.
    Gang rape someone? No problem.
    The US has a high level of accountability within law.

  • Waymajor

    Who are they to put anyone anywhere? Now, the converse is a growing consideration whose time is well past but restrained by fear induced by oligarchic control of federal military machinations authorized by sell outs to defense contractors (and myriad corporate controllers of the vestiges of the American vision for a more perfect union). Who are they that have approved the (laughably named) Patriot Act, privatized prisons, drug war on Americans (in a repeat performance of the Prohibition debacle), insurance frauds in banking and privitized health industry scams, energy subsidizations of resources that belong to the citizens, media propaganda outlets, the quashing of collective bargaining, voter suppression, defunding of social safety nets and education and continual decimation of Constitutional rights? Why are the extremists of corporate controlled media pushing further assaults on the 2nd Amendment, as an answer to violence, instead of addressing prohibition induced gang violence, massacres due to lack of a mental health (or any health) system of care, violence inducing joblessness while infrastructure crumbles and suicidal violence due to denial of Veterans disability claims (along with the root cause of social tension caused by federalist military control instead of Constitutionally endorsed military control at a more local level under the authority of, by and for the Citizens)? Who are they that will find a way to put those who have perpetrated these violent crimes, against Americans, in the place those sell outs have built to put the victims of oligarchic corporataracy?

  • Leslie of Illinois


  • Leslie of Illinois


  • Leslie of Illinois

    This racially oriented phenomenon represents from plantation life for land owners profit and the law to return escaped slaves to their owners to now the denial of education, services and livelihood and being chosen for incarceration in prison for corporate profit.
    In Chicago, where truancy is a problem due to family problems, poverty, etc., instead of having truant officers and social workers, Mayor Rahm Emanual, just says the schools don’t have enough students and closes down the school near kids homes and then the kids have to walk further in dangerous neighborhoods, so that even more kids can get shot.

  • Sharrone Barber-Nard

    Wow, what a great saying and so true.

  • Sharrone Barber-Nard

    Another great saying. So true.

  • Maria MacKay


    So many emotions in a whirlwind
    Too many emotions to begin
    Clear thought, rarely feasible
    Rare thoughts, clearly meaningful




    I work in corrections

    I work for corrections

    So much emotional turmoil
    Too much emotional toiling
    The ground is packed beneath the feet
    Beneath the feet the packed ground reeks

    Broken connections
    Disfigured reflections
    Scapegoat elections

    I work in corrections

    I work for corrections

    I dream of corrections

    I scream of corrections

    I walk in corrections

    I talk in corrections

    The anger, the hate, the pain and the guilt
    The sadness and regret that freedom was killed

    Divided in sections
    Emotions are reckless
    No one ever mentions
    No relief from the tensions

    I work in corrections
    I work for corrections
    I try in corrections
    I see my reflections
    I cry in corrections
    Turn away from reflections
    For this is corrections.

  • maria

    …and disguised as police

  • maria

    wonderful writing :( I used to be a corrections officer – terrible terrible job

  • Mace

    Appalling stats. It’s clear that the African American male is still in the clutches of institutionalized slavery and our experiment with freedom needs some serious tweaking.

  • janny jiver

    I heard about this on NPR the other da, people in prison for stealing $111 worth of stuff from a store, another guy for trying to steal a motor vehicle sticker… AND that they receive little to no health care tho we as taxpauyers pay as tho they did. MOST SINISTER that more and more “corrections” run by for profit corporations, isn’t that encouragin? Makes me sick, sick at heart.

  • Aunt Joyce

    Amen! And as a population how many guns are in the homes of civilian households? Is it any wonder the rest of the world thinks we are just a little bit whacky?

  • Aunt Joyce

    Very touching. Thank you. Will you consider writing to ease the pain, to revisit the moments wherein you needed to grasp and hold beauty? In my opinion you have received a gift and can share it well. No, not a gift by being incarcerated, a gift to help you tolerate incarceration. I especially appreciate your language, not rough or tired or frightened, but soft enough for two kids sitting with their Dad. Well done.

  • Arnold T. Smith


  • Whocares1444

    you all are liberal thinkers…… Get rid of gov, power hungry, want what I want when I want it types…… and do the right things,,,then just maybe we have a chance

  • Anonymous

    Gee, I wonder how the rate of privatization of prisons charts alongside the increase in the incarceration rate?

  • Kentucky Kid

    Want the American dream back? Move to Scandinavia.

  • Charles Buzzard

    Here’s the way I see it: the ballooning prison rate is due to the ballooning crime rate which is due to ballooning parental neglect, indifference and apathy. Start producing responsible parents and you’ll see the crime rate plummet. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though. Another strategy would be to hold *parents* responsible as well for crimes committed by their 21 and under progeny. Maybe that would get their attention.

  • ojoe

    It doesn’t seem you’re living in the same U.S. as me. In my U.S. the level of accountability within law is inversely proportional to the amount of power or money one has…

  • Anonymous

    Actually, it is due to the ballooning profits reaped by those who take advantage of the cheap labor supplied by prisons and/or the demand for goods and services by the captive population. That, and keeping the poor black folk off the street is good for the economy numbers.

  • Anonymous

    That is a valid point but not a logical inference. Even if India were to prosecute and incarcerate rapists (something the majority of the population is calling for), they would in no way approach the proportions seen here. Remember, slavery was only abolished in form, not fact.

  • HiHopes

    I would like to see the correlation (if any) between privatization, business profiting from captive workers and these elements. I suspect there is more to be told…

  • John Bailo

    The US deinstitutionalized asylums back in the 1970s and threw mental patients on the street. I wonder what portion of these inmates are mentally ill? Also, if not insane and back on the street, where are the jobs, homes and so on to come from? I guess I’m saying this is not just prison per se, but like libraries and public transit, another way to host the population that has no place.

  • Faj Mahal

    There are a number of bank board members and executives, corporate board members and executives and bureaucrats who oversee those board members and executives who blatantly stole much more than $111 or a motor vehicle registration. They have not experienced any “level of accountability within the law.” But you already know that SHJ, don’t you? Your response is not really an attempt to discuss this matter reasonably with open minded people, is it SHJ? From what I read, it appears that you, like a lot of us are far too afraid to actually deal with the issues that are brought up here. There’s nothing that I can do about that but I will say SHJ, please do not ever represent yourself as someone who is interested in justice and the peace that it offers you with the people around you. Stay inside your castle, mocking the honesty that knocks at the gate with snide ugly comments, afraid to be yourself.

  • Faj Mahal

    1987-1989 Reagan, 1989-1993 Bush, 1993-2001 Clinton, 2001-2007 Bush


  • eric wynne taylor

    The United States is the Gulag Archipelago of the modern day world!

  • Lizziern

    Time to pay people to not have children. This would wipe out the welfare state in which we reside. It would wipe out the uncared for and neglected children in this world.

  • Chad Charles

    Tried that with farmers not raising crops. Just a different form of welfare.

  • Guest

    Are you saying it’s poor people’s fault that they’re poor? Watch this:

  • Susan

    This is a direct result of the privatization of prisons.

  • Barbara DeMoss

    How well I know. Someone near and dear to me is serving an 18 year sentence for a crime that never happened.

  • Anonymous

    JB, your question is right on the money. No one knows, is the sad answer. What is known is that our Nation has done exactly nothing about a true National scale to do a anything about a Mental Health Care System. But then again, we haven’t done a single thing about any National Health Care System. I back Obamacare to the hilt…because it’s all we’ve got.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, HH, and we do well to pay attention to the very high rates of illegal emigrant incarceration in private prisons as well. The money is good, damned good.

  • Anonymous

    i wonder about people who think like you…is life so meaningless you see no point in bringing forth more life?

  • rickmyers

    I Respectfully call bullsh!t on the healthcare! I have been in the medical game now for 8 years, the incarcerated get just as good help, and are just as frequent. In fact a lot of medical abuse is from them as well, every little belly ache. I am tired of paying for them, especially when they fake for drugs, or lie about being ill for a change of scenery! Sorry, but No sympathy here.

  • Anonymous

    Oh no not Canada! History shows that in recent years the sickness that is American is crossing the border into Canada.

  • z–man

    Prisons should not be private for-profit enterprises. In order for that to work, you need criminals. When there aren’t enough criminals, they must be “made”.