America's Enormous Prison Population Got Even Bigger


The U.S. Attorney General has been making headlines talking about the need for "smarter" sentencing and fewer people behind bars.

But most of those who are incarcerated are doing time under state laws, and that point was driven home by a new report this week that shows our prison population is still growing.

The report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that, despite the federal prison population declining for the first time by 0.9 percent in 2013, the overall prison population increased slightly by 4,300 prisoners, or 0.3 percent.

That's because of an influx of 6,300 people into state prisons, a 0.5 percent increase from 2012.

That's a small increase, but it breaks the pattern, which began in 2009, of the overall U.S. prison population shrinking each year. It's also in the context of America being the prison capital of the world, with 1,574,700 inmates locked up across the country.


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  1. USA! USA! USA!

    1. American exceptionalism FTW.

      1. America, fuck yeah!

  2. One useful function Reason could perform is taking a middle position – distinguishing between violent felons* and nonviolent ones – that is, who’s in prison for murder, burglary and the like, and who’s in prison for the sorts of things Reason wants to either legalize or at least punish more lightly?

    Because the Cycle of Retardation seems to be pushing US criminal justice policy from one extreme to another – from locking people up with disproportionately harsh sentences to following a European-style (or U.S. 1970s style) release of violent felons after a derisory sentence.

    Here’s one occasion where a centrist position would make sense – minimize the number of nonviolent felons in prison, free up space for the violent people who would likely go back to their violent ways once released.

    *and fraudsters – wouldn’t want the Madoffs to get light sentences either.

    1. Bingo! Make prison the place for people who can’t seem to stop harming others. Everybody else can either go free or be redirected into some diversion program.

    2. Yeah, well those non-violent offenders as you put it cause much more harm that the violent ones. Every drug dealer out there is responsible for countless burglaries, assaults, rapes and murders because their druggie customers are all criminals. And every druggie that’s locked up is now prevented from committing those crimes. The people who are actually caught committing violent crimes aren’t nearly as bad as the drug dealers and users who cause people to commit those crimes. So by focusing on non-violent offenders, and largely ignoring crimes with actual victims, we reduce violent crime.

      /drug warrior

  3. I blame too little government. The private-prison industry has (somehow) gone over the heads of Congress and the state legislatures to ban things just to increase its profits.

    This is what progressives of my acquaintance actually believe.

    1. If only the prison guards and staff could unionize too! Then we would see reforms!

    2. My grandparents have mentioned how they are against private prisons because of “teh profitz”. But, I fail to see any perverse incentive for a privately run prison. I only see that of those that are in power to put people in prison.

  4. This is good for the economy because the more people the government employs in prisons, the higher the GDP!

    (Never mind the obvious fact that many of those prisoners could be doing something productive if they weren’t caged, but opportunity cost is unseen so it doesn’t count)

    1. Hey, those license plates won’t make themselves!

      1. Ever notice how license plates keep getting gaudier with every change (the current Texas tags being a welcome exception)? A friend’s pet theory is that it’s done to keep the prisoners busy.

    2. Caged Wisdom changed my life

  5. The old school to prison pipeline.

  6. How will the soccer moms sleep at night with all those barbarians running around loose?

    1. They’d probably feel worse if they weren’t so heavily sedated

  7. This my friend is why we ALWAYS roll with the punches.

  8. with 1,574,700 inmates locked up across the country.

    About the same population as the Jacksonville FL Metro area…

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