Something is broken in the American prison system.

As Jon Oliver noted in his blistering takedown of the correctional system and for-profit prisons on Last Week Tonight last summer (warning, it contains some strong language), the rate of growth of the criminal justice system is shocking. Right now, two million people are in prison or jail in the United States.

America has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. A 2006 Justice Department report found that including probation and the parole, at the time, a staggering one in every 32 Americans were being held in the criminal justice system.

As we approach a new election season and candidates state their positions in issues like drug laws, prison reform and sentencing policy, we look at several numbers that show just how broken the current system is.

In addition, 1 in 9 prisoners are serving a life sentence. And there are 4 times as many convicts serving life sentences today as there were in 1984, even though violent crime has declined.

10,000 of those serving life sentences were convicted before they turned 18.

In 2013, states spent $51.9 billion on corrections

5.85 million Americans can’t vote because of felony disenfranchisement policies

50 percent of federal prisoners are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes.

Many states agree to fill 90 percent of beds in private prisons at any given point.

Sources: NAACP, The Sentencing Project, Associated Press, Life Goes On: The Historic Rise of Life Sentences in America, National Association of State Budget Officers, ACLU, In the Public Interest

1 comment
  1. Thank you Jesse for writing this article. I also enjoy John Oliver’s segments. Although his language can get salty, his content is spot on.

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