We've heard a lot of talk lately about mass incarceration, the stop-and-frisk policies in New York, reforming the drug laws, and mandatory minimum sentencing. There's also been discussion about over-criminalization—that we have too many laws, too broadly enforced—from groups as ideologically diverse as the Heritage Foundation, the ACLU, the Cato Institute, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
But here's a related statistic that's pretty mind blowing in and of itself: According to the FBI, in 2011 there were 3991.1 arrests for every 100,000 people living in America. That means over the course of a single year, one in 25 Americans was arrested.
The FBI also reports that the arrest rate for violent crime was just 172 per 100,000, and for property crimes, it was 531. That means that in 2011, one in 33 Americans were arrested for crimes that didn't involve violence against another person, or theft of or damage to property. More people were arrested for drug crimes than any other class of crimes—about one in every 207 of us. One in every 258 of us was arrested for drunk driving. The FBI doesn't keep track, but presumably the remaining arrests were for crimes like prostitution, vandalism, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and other consensual crimes and relatively minor offenses.