The growing prison and jail populations

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Maximum security sunrise
by Scott Walker

In 2015 Newsweek Magazine reported that over 2.2 million people are incarcerated in American jails or prisons. America has the largest jail/prison population in the world.

If those numbers are hard to imagine, think of it this way:

If you took the population of Delaware and multiplied it by two and then added the population of Rutherford County, TN - - you would have the number of those behind bars in the United States.


If you took the population of Washington D.C. and multiplied it by three and then added 156,490 people - - you would have the number of those behind bars in the United States.

The number of men and women behind bars is larger than the population of 16 U.S. states.

Still not easy enough to wrap your mind around? More people are sitting in American jail or prison cells than the population of 87 different countries around the world.

Jail Vs. Prison Basics:

If you didn't realize it, jail and prison are very different. Those who are in a prison have already gone through court proceedings and were found guilty. Their time behind bars is usually one year to life.

Typically, those who are in jail are awaiting their trial or unable to make bond. Others sitting in jails across the country are being held for misdemeanor crimes that don't exceed 11 months and 29 days. Of course, you could be in a jail longer if convicted of multiple misdemeanor charges or if you are enrolled in a special program.

Children without Parents:

The Casey Foundation reported that over 5 million children in the United States have had at least one parent behind bars at one point or another. Those numbers equal one out of every fourteen kids who have had a parent behind bars during their toddler, early childhood or adolescent years.

The cost of bars:

The cost to keep inmates in confinement equals around $70 billion annually, according to

Why has the prison population spiked since 1980?

Prison and local jail populations have skyrocketed in the United States over the past 35+ years, but why? Some would blame the problem on laws surrounding marijuana or alcohol consumption. Those who blame such are only correct by a fraction.

Mental Illness is the real contributor to the increased prison and jail system populations.

The Urban Institute reports that over 60% of local jail inmates have mental problems while nearly the same number present mentally ill symptoms.

State prisoners also have a lot of the same issues as local jails. In state prisons, over 55% of inmates have some type of mental problem and another 48% or so show symptoms.

At the Federal prison level, about 45% of inmates have mental issues while 40% show mentally ill symptoms, according to the Urban Institute.

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jail, mental, mental illness, populations, prison
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