THE UNITED STATES HAS IN RECENT TIMES DEVELOPED A PREOCCUPATION WITH INCARCERATION.
In 2009, more than 7.2 million people in America were in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole. That's equal to the combined populations of major U.S. cities like Washington,DC, Phoenix, Dallas, Miami, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, San Antonio, and San Diego.
The numbers have risen steadily over the past few decades. In 1980, about 2 million Americans were either incarcerated or on probation, parole, or some other form of correctional supervision.
By 1990, the figure had doubled to nudge past the 4-million mark. At the turn of the century in 2000, the number was more than 6 million.
The United States has for years held the unenviable distinction of being the "incarcerator in-chief." At last count, 756 Americans out of every 100,000 people were in prison or jail--—more than any other country in the world. Even China and Russia—--hardly bastions of liberty and civil rights--—have lower numbers of prisoners. America can hardly exclaim jubilantly that it houses 25% of the world's prisoners, when it only has 5% of the world's population.
Beyond the social costs attendant with mass incarceration, America’s preoccupation with incarceration comes with a stiff financial price tag.
The federal government alone spent more than $6 billion on the federal prison system in fiscal year 2014. And even with that level of investment, our federal prisons are operating at 132% of capacity, with prisoners regularly dying from inadequate medical care, and leaving unprepared for release into the community.