Why are 2.3 million people in the US locked up? This infographic explains everything you need to know

This pie chart, by Prison Policy Initiative, breaks down where and why 2.3 million people in the US are behind bars. One in five of them are imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses. "For the last 20 years, the number of arrests for drug sales have remained flat, while the number of arrests for possession have grown."

While this pie chart provides a comprehensive snapshot of our correctional system, the graphic does not capture the enormous churn in and out of our correctional facilities and the far larger universe of people whose lives are affected by the criminal justice system. Every year, 641,000 people walk out of prison gates, but people go to jail over 11 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because most people in jails have not been convicted. Some have just been arrested and will make bail in the next few hours or days, and others are too poor to make bail and must remain behind bars until their trial. Only a small number (187,000 on any given day) have been convicted, generally serving misdemeanors sentences under a year.

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  1. I'm honestly surprised drug offenses are such a small pie slice. The way people talk, I expected it to be 115% of all convictions.

  2. Old says:

    That's 'cause the statisticians are all busy doing bong rips.

  3. Yeah, I was a bit surprised by that too. A couple of things to note: drug case more often end up in federal prison system, so about half of the federal prisoners are there drug offenses, but far more people overall are locked up in state prisons.

    The other factor is the churn rate which is a bit hard to get a good picture for because of the confusing mix of "at any moment" and "rate per year" statistics. Based on these numbers, 111k people at any given time are in local jails on arrest for drug offenses that they don't end up being convicted of. Based on a jail population of 600k and an arrest rate of 11 million and assuming proportional distribution, you might extrapolate that about 2 million people a year are arrested on drug charges, but most are never convicted and don't go to prison -- more than the entire long-term prison population put together. Even so, there are an equivalent number of people in jail on property and violent charges that don't got convicted either.

  4. The jail statistic seems particularly telling. Assuming people are mostly there for much less than a year, and given that most of them can't be ending up in prison, it suggests there's a much larger population which you might call "jail-adjacent".

    It's hard to see someone having a nice middle-class life if they've spent a week in jail in the last several years. Nice people distance would distance themselves from you. Nice-person jobs would let you go. And that's regardless of whether you actually did anything.

  5. renke says:

    this is a good thing!

    I learned from this info graphic that lower incarceration rates are the cause for a Russian invasion.

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