Home of the free. According to a February 28, 2008 study by the Pew Center for the States, 1% of the US adult population was behind bars. This comes to 2,319,258 Americans as of January 1, 2008. Of these, 1,596,127 were in prison. The federal system contained 198,989 inmates. State systems held another 1,397,138. 723,131 were in local jails. Those incarcerated did not reflect the American population as a whole. Based on 2006 midyear numbers from the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate for Hispanic men (18 and older) was one in 36; for African-American men (18 and older), it was one in 15. For younger African-American men between the ages of 20 and 34, it was one in 9.
The United States incarcerates its citizens more than any other country in the world. To put this all in perspective, the number 2 country in the world in terms of prison population is China. It has a penal population of 1.5 million, in other words 800,000 fewer than the US but with 4 times the population. The US prison population is so large because of the greater tendency for offenders to be sent to jail and kept there for longer periods than in other countries. The size of the US prison population is a national disgrace. While the Bush Administration wishes to give “Get out of jail free” cards to telecoms or minions like Scooter Libby, ordinary Americans, especially minority Americans, are not so fortunate. As so often happens in this Administration, policies are carried out without any regard for their consequences as long as those consequences are borne by others.