This Map Shows Where the U.S. Locks Up the Most Prisoners
The United States incarcerates a lot of people—so many that it has more prisons and jails than colleges and universities.
The following map from The Washington Post, based on the 2010 census, shows where about 2.3 million adult and juvenile prisoners are held. Besides the country’s 1,800 state and federal correctional facilities, it includes the 3,200 local and county jails where hundreds of thousands are detained at any given time. With an incarceration rate of 716 of every 100,000 residents, the U.S. locks up more people than any other country, according to nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.
College degree–granting institutions, on the other hand, only added up to 4,599 during the 2010–2011 school year. This map, based on numbers from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, shows that in many regions (in red), prisons house more people than colleges.
What gives? Experts say that policies, not crime rates, are to blame. Between 1975 and 2002, all states passed mandatory sentencing laws that prevented judges from offering short sentences. Even as violent crime declined over the past 20 years, the number of people sentenced to life without parole quadrupled. That includes nonviolent offenders. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 3,278 prisoners are serving life sentences without parole for drug, property, and other nonviolent crimes as of 2012.
Not only is this costing the country financially (in 2010, the U.S. spent $80 billion on the prison system), but it’s also taking a toll on poverty-stricken individuals and families who are disproportionately affected by incarceration policies. Almost half of the prison population is black. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an African American boy born in 2001 has about a one in three chance of spending time behind bars. Now only if there were more effective education policies that could help black male students, who have the lowest college completion rate among all groups.