Chart of the Day – America’s Prison Population Over the Past 100 Years

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 3.05.01 PMThere are 2.3 million Americans in prison or jail. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. One in three black men can expect to spend time in prison. There are 2.7 million minors with an incarcerated parent. The imprisonment rate has grown by more than 400 percent since 1970.

Recent research suggests that incarceration has lost its potency. A report released this week from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law finds that increased incarceration has had a very limited effect on crime over the past two and a half decades.

– From today’s Five-Thrity-Eight article: The Imprisoner’s Dilemma

The sickening and absurd rate of incarceration in these United States has been a frequent topic of conversation here at Liberty Blitzkrieg over the years (links at the end). In our national insanity, the U.S. has only 5% of the worlds population, yet 25% of its prisoners. Many of these people have no business being locked in a cage to begin with, and are wasting their lives away for committing “victimless crimes,” i.e. for no good reason.

While the immorality of locking up so many of our fellow citizens for non-crimes should be readily apparent, today’s article from Five-Thirty-Eight offers evidence that America’s incarceration rate has become so saturated that it has absolutely no meaningful impact in lowering crimes rates anyway. The time for prison reform and the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences is long overdue.

From Five-Thirty-Eight:

There are 2.3 million Americans in prison or jail. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. One in three black men can expect to spend time in prison. There are 2.7 million minors with an incarcerated parent. The imprisonment rate has grown by more than 400 percent since 1970.

It’s supposed to help the country reduce crime in two ways: incapacitation — it’s hard to be a habitual offender while in prison — or deterrence — people scared of prison may do their best to not end up there.

But recent research suggests that incarceration has lost its potency. A reportreleased this week from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law finds that increased incarceration has had a very limited effect on crime over the past two and a half decades.

At incarceration’s current elevated levels, the effect of more incarceration on crime is not statistically different than zero. It’s no longer working.

In 1970, there were just shy of 200,000 Americans in prison. Today there are more than 1.5 million — 496 prisoners for every 100,000 people. That’s more than in any developed country. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the imprisonment rate in Russia is 467. In the U.K., it’s 148. In France, 102. In Germany, it’s 76. In Japan, 50.

It’s because of these elevated levels that we’re likely to see diminishing returns. If we assume — fairly! — that the criminal justice system tends to incarcerate the worst offenders first, it becomes clear why. Once the worst offenders are in prison, each additional prisoner will yield less benefit in the form of reduced crime. Increased incarceration — and its incapacitation effect — loses its bite. And at its world-historic level, it’s not surprising that it would’ve lost nearly all of it.

And diminishing returns are what we saw. Crime rates dropped as incarceration rates rose, for a time, but incarceration’s effect on crime weakened as more people were imprisoned. An increase in incarceration was responsible for something like 5 percent of the decrease in crime in the 1990s, when its levels were lower, but has played no meaningful role since. If I were speaking to a fellow economist, I’d say the incarceration elasticity of crime is not distinguishable from zero. At a cocktail party, I’d say that crime no longer responds to changes in incarceration.

Evidence of incarceration’s diminishing returns can be found outside of big data sets and regression models, too. It can also be found via a natural experiment. report from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project compared the prisoner releases from California’s realignment with similar releases in Italy, following clemency legislation passed by the Italian Parliament. California saw no discernable change in crime. Italy saw a spike in crime. The reason? California’s incarceration rate was high, and Italy’s was low. Italy hadn’t yet experienced dramatically diminishing returns.

Now here’s the money shot. U.S. imprisonment rate per 100,000 people since 1880:

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 3.05.01 PM

Like this post?
Donate bitcoins: 35DBUbbAQHTqbDaAc5mAaN6BqwA2AxuE7G

Follow me on Twitter.

9 thoughts on “Chart of the Day – America’s Prison Population Over the Past 100 Years”

  1. A big reason sanity has not and likely will not prevail is because Corrections Corporation of America is getting plenty of workers at prevailing wage rates that make Thailand look like Swiss compensation. Read some of the stories of corrupt judges who sentence to prison based on their greased palm extended to these and others slimeballs.

    It will not end for the same reason our tax system will see no meaningful reform: the entrenched interests who benefit from it have a lot more money, influence and access to the people who arrange for all the right things to happen that assures their economic success.

    The system is hopelessly corrupt in so many ways, our major institutions are compromised at such a radically fundamental level, it is going to take its destruction for the POSSIBILITY of positive change. No guarantees but as to our present course, that way lies madness.

    I think it was best summed up by some deeply insightful political theorist who said: “Roll the fucking guillotines.”

  2. It’s not that difficult to figure out. The war on drugs plus the rise of the private prison industry and all of its 3rd party for profit subsidiaries plus convict leases to corporations like GE. Legislation over the last few decades has ensured that the jails and prisons are full or close in order to increase ROI. It’s not about truth or justice or even reducing crime, it’s about profit. State and federal politicians own stock. This is part of the reason our economy is in such bad shape and our per capita GNP sucks. Crime is bad business no matter what side you are on, crime doesn’t pay even if they try to make it pay.

  3. The country has a giant workforce locked away from work and contributing to the economy. Plus corporate policies put up barriers to entry for people convicted of crimes. Alot of these same corporations are felons themselves, from BP America to HCA. I’m not for sure what the logic behind some of this legislation and corporate policies is but it is detrimental to society more so than the supposed crimes.

  4. 7 years ago I was sent to jail for 4 months for video taping police in a small NJ town. I had no criminal record. was a husband and father of three. I owned a company that employed 5 people and a lifelong resident of the town. I was a political prisoner. They did it on purpose hoping to destroy my life. It didn’t work. Jail was one of the best experiences of my life and only hardened my resolve against our corrupt government. Having worked so hard since the age of 15, it was the first vacation I have ever had. They gave me free food, medical, electricity and heat. I got to exercise all day! I got in incredible shape and felt amazing!
    Upon exiting jail 4 months later, I allowed my home to enter foreclosure for 1.2 million dollars while fighting the foreclosure in court for 6 years while saving every dime. The home was bought with only $100,000 dollars, so I extracted more than 3 times from the banksters leagally! I also claimed that the state was responsible for my companies bankruptcy and filed for food stamps, welfare and free medical insurance. The state immediately began paying over $2000 in benefits and still do. I dumped all my bank accounts and went all silver and gold. Ultimately extracting over $300,000 from the system while operating completely off grid.
    As I write this my family is stronger than ever, while most of the officers who perpetrated this crime have since divorced and lost their homes. The officer who started this entire event has been fired. We are so financially strong now that we have o debt, no loans, no bank accounts, pay no insurances, no mortgage, no car payments. My assets cant be seized or taken. And should I ever be kidnapped and held hostage again, my family, finances and company will be 100% protected from our government.
    A local news reporter following my story believes the local government spent over 6 million dollars over 6 years in litigation trying to prosecute this case! Can you imagine? But it gets better. While spending 4 months in jail I watched how the guards operated and how illegal drugs entered the jail. Sure enough, it was corrupt police and guards allowing the drugs in. So I documented everything, just like I did on the outside. Before being released from my sentence (violation of a judicial court order preventing me from video taping ANY township employee, even the garbage men) I asked to speak with the county prosecutor. I layed out evidence of massive crimes taking place within the jail and suggested that the media be informed. Upon release, all of the original false charges were dropped! Several more officers were indicted and the costs of their escapades then skyrocked once again.
    I can tell you the BLOW BACK to the system is devastating. My family and every family and neighbor who experienced what happened to me look at these officers as monsters who are evil and can not be trusted. America is in complete collapse and people should prepare accordingly…….

    • If there is any hope for America, it lies with people like you. When people lose their fear of the System, the System will dissolve before our eyes.

      We are many, they are few. You’re a true credit to your country and your humanity.

  5. Thank you Mr. Krieger for your response to my testimony. The local paper actually will be of little help. They, like most MSM only reported what the police had to say. Even though the judges Judicial Order is still on the record and implies that any judge at any time can revoke your right to free speech at any time! This event opened my eyes to how media distorts facts to fit their narrative. We fought for three years in court for multiple police videos depicting police officers committing crimes with their vehicles, video I possessed myself and submitted to the court. My videos were dismissed as not admissible and after three years of lawsuits, the police simply said their videos did not exist because they were never properly trained how to operate their video systems! True. The story continues for several years as I fought an incredible fight. I have photos of 3 police cars blocking my driveway at the end of my 8 acre property. When I called in their activity that was being video taped, they simply said they had no idea what I was talking about, that no police cars were at that scene! Then all demands for GPS records were denied under the ruling “It would compromise public safety.” I then began receiving traffic violations. Stupid stuff like unclear license plates. I fought each and every one of them Pro Se in court under maritime law and common law. What is referred to as the U.C.C. Each ticket had a value of $85 and took the court over 9 months each and I WON! All traffic violations were dismissed one by one. Again costing the town 10,s of thousands of dollars to adjudicate. I don’t care about the money or the time it takes to fight. I care about freedom. If every person would take the time to do what I did, the corrupt system would collapse under its own weight. But most sheeple are mindless debt slaves focused on accumulating fiat paper debt notes. I view life differently. We are like cattle on a farm. Here at the pleasure of the farmer. Thank you for your time and your informative website. Please keep reporting the truth my friend………..

  6. I should also note, I do everything I can to learn from life’s experiences. While jailed for the 4 months, I became very involved with prison ministry. This is people who entered the jail every day to help other people in jail. Once allowed to return to my life by my captors, I became involved in this operation. Helping others wrongfully jailed. We even go to the families and homes of the prisoners to give their children needed gifts and supplies for school. The damage that is being done to families by jailing people is immeasurable! Also, did you know it is a huge money maker for the banksters? When you are jailed, a bond is issued. It is then traded on the stock market. Most privately owned prisons are financed by major banks like Wells Fargo for the sole purpose of creating Bond servants (slaves). The same banks and insurance companies that made their fortunes from insuring the ‘cargo’ on slave ships. The Supreme Court of the USA ruled that “cargo” (slaves) that were sick and thrown over board alive had to be paid for by the insurance companies as lost cargo as listed on the manifest!They are still doing the same thing today. The rabbit hole goes deep.

    Also, while in jail as the states slave you are “allowed” to work. As a result, the entire jail or slave population operates on the labor of other prisoners. The guards simply oversee the cattle. I refused to serve them. I did not work, nor seek any special privileges. I used my time wisely to read, learn, exercise and truly enjoy the experience. I befriended an incarcerated judge and lawyer and began helping assist them in legal briefs they were issuing on behalf of jailed illegal immigrants. (very profitable as the families of the jailed send large sums of money to the judge and lawyers families for services rendered) They taught me how to navigate the legal system. So I got to study law under Esquires for free! When life gives you oranges, make orange juice………….


Leave a Reply