american pie

The American prison population, in one chart
by Ryan Cooper, The Week
March 15, 2014

As is well known, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 743 out of 100,000 people imprisoned. But given how prisoners are distributed across thousands of federal, state, and local institutions, it’s been hard to get a good sense of how exactly the prison population breaks down.

Until now. The Prison Policy Initiative put together this amazing pie chart that lets you take in all 2.4 million prisoners at a glance.


Here’s a small disclaimer:

While the numbers in each slice of this pie chart represent a snapshot cross section of our correctional system, the enormous churn in and out of our confinement facilities underscores how naive it is to conceive of prisons as separate from the rest of our society. In addition to the 688,000 people released from prisons each year, almost 12 million people cycle through local jails each year.

I highly recommend reading through the full report (which isn’t too long), or clicking around to some of their other work. Very good, urgently necessary stuff.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Don MacLean performing “American Pie”


2 Responses to “american pie”

  1. 1 Marie
    March 16, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Very interesting an upsetting. This part of the study obviously caught my attention.

    …….Offense figures for categories such as “drugs” carry an important caveat here, however: all cases are reported only under the most serious offense. For example, a person who is serving prison time for both murder and a drug offense would be reported only in the murder portion of the chart. This methodology exposes some disturbing facts, particularly about our juvenile justice system. For example, there are almost 15,000 children behind bars whose “most serious offense” wasn’t anything that most people would consider a crime: almost 12,000 children are behind bars for “technical violations” of the requirements of their probation or parole, rather than for a new specific offense. More than 3,000 children are behind bars for “status” offenses, which are, as the U.S. Department of Justice explains: “behaviors that are not law violations for adults, such as running away, truancy, and incorrigibility.”4

    Interesting word in there, “technicalities” are the reason many children are incarcerated. If one would only consider the obstacles these young people live with day in and out, I am certain, their technicalities would not ever warrant jail time. This is so sad. I also was disturbed knowing how many poor people are behind bars, as well as immigrants, and drug offenders, which by the way is an epidemic that clearly has to be addressed in a different manner. It is important to look at the big picture when it comes to drug addiction. Heroin and crack addiction generally starts off with “pain killers”. There is a much more complex issue behind addiction but much money protects these sectors. All together, it appears there is clear discrimination in race, economic status, and people either making a living off drugs or people suffering from addiction that cannot afford the proper help to break away from addiction. Not to mention a clear abuse of children that would blossom in programs that would “help” them, rather than give them more of same.

    Many more interesting points in the article. Thanks Dan .

  2. March 16, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Reading this article, especially what relates to the youth in prison, leads me to ask me many questions about the way in which American consider and treat their children. It already seems inconceivable to send children of 10, 12 or 14 years in prison for little acts of delinquency, rather than taking educational measures to help them. Imprisonment in an adapted facility, far away from adult offenders, seems conceivable only if they have committed a felony and this should be acceptable only if they are aged over 15 or 16 years and if no other solution exists. And not with the same sentences than adults. But the evil seems even greater than I imagined.
    How is it possible to send a kid in jail for things like a fugue or truancy? These are things which reflect situations of malaise more than delinquent acts.
    A fugue is often a distress signal, a call for help sended to us by a child. There is something who’s going wrong with his family. Or, if the problem doesn’t come from the family, he chose to run away because he has found no way to deal with a situation he cannot control. Social treatment of the problem, helping him to find a solution that the child has not glimpsed is a more appropriate response than incarceration and the traumas it generates. In all last resort, sending the youth in a social welfare institution or in foster care can be a response too and is not so damaging as an emprisonment.
    And it is the same thing on truancy. It is also often another call for help because something is wrong at the school for the child. There are certainly better to do that send this child behind bars, as searching for the causes of the malaise and remedy. If he finds no interest in the subjects taught and if he is in age to this, why not send him towards an other school cursus who leads him to learn a work consistent with his tastes and abilities? But this will be more difficult for the youngest of them, who are not in age to learn to work. If it is a victim of the brutality of the playground bullies, why not identify them and reeducate them by a work about themselves who will permit to them to change their behaviour? They are not so many incorrigible kids than that, who cannot change their behaviour.
    On the issue of the drug users, I see no interest in throwing them in jail. It seems better to encourage them to seek treatment and escape to their addiction. This, also, needs to seek and remedy to the causes of the malaise that pushes them to take drugs, rather than push them into the vicious circle Drug – Prison – Drugs and misery – Prison that too often leads to a premature death. And identified once causes of the trouble, help them to find the will to get out. Because you cannot get out of an addiction if there is no will. Forced abstinence which is practised in prisons is not a help. Forced abstinence only reinforces the desire for the forbidden fruit and invariably leads to relapse and recidivism, if the will of escape to the addiction is absent.
    Incarceration may seem an easier and cheaper response of the society to those who are in difficulty as social aid and care. Social care has a higher cost than emprisonment. But the money saved by the non-emprisonment of these people can (and should) be used for the social help that they need. Because, ultimately, society must pay for such care, after the release of the imprisoned person. And not only in monetary terms.

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