Who Are All Of These People Locked Up In The USA?

Here’s a super helpful look at our incarceration nation. This pie chart is an excellent resource compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative.  Take a few minutes and look it over yourself.  I’d be curious to hear what your impressions are.  Let me know your thoughts.

Here are a few of mine:

  1. If you look at the federal immigration detention number and the “other” immigration detention it puts us at well over 50,000 people locked up for immigration reasons.  I’d like to know how long these people are typically being held.  It seems like a very high number of people to be in prison, basically awaiting… what? Deportation and/or trial?  As non-US citizens, they likely aren’t being afforded much by way of Constitutional protections.  I’d like to know more about these 50,000 people.
  2. There are some 100,000 people locked up in federal prisons for drug charges/convictions.  This seems excessive.  Even if you factor in whatever percentage of these people are a risk to their communities, it seems we could be placing a good percentage of these people into diversion programs: rehab and/or other social correctional services, as opposed to just jailing them.
  3. There are over 300,000 people behind bars who have yet to be convicted for the crime(s) they are charged with.  I know from reading elsewhere that many of these people are locked up not just days and weeks, but months and even years.  This is before they’ve been convicted of the crime, and it isn’t right.  The vast majority of these people are the ones that cannot afford bail, and so they sit behind bars… waiting.  There is substantial damage done to the person and families and communities in these situations, not to mention that a certain percentage of these people will eventually be found not guilty and/or have their charges dropped, etc, after spending sometimes… how long? – too long, behind bars.  This is a serious issue that needs attention.
  4. State prisons are currently incarcerating some 600,000 prisoners (roughly half of their population) for non-violent crimes.  I’d love to see a discussion on ways of handling these various cases.  I’m not advocating simply setting free all non-violent offenders- I truly believe that each case is unique and much of it must be left to the discretion of the court, etc.  But knowing how flawed our system is, and the inherent systemic norms that pervade our criminal justice system, I’d love to have an open-minded discussion of reforms that looks at these types of cases from a new perspective.  

One last thought on this pie chart.  I cannot help but look at those figures, all those numbers, all those colors and categories, realizing they each represent a person- a real life human being currently in the system, locked up, in a cage, rightly or wrongly… God have mercy on those people.  How many of those 2.2 million people are in fact innocent?  How many?  Only God knows.  But we can be sure there are far more than we’d like to admit, there are far more than is justifiable, there are far more people wrongfully incarcerated than any free society under God should ever allow.  It is so crucial that we enact criminal justice reforms, and we double our efforts to free those innocent persons as soon as humanly possible.


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