One in every 34 U.S. adults was under some sort of correctional supervision in 2011 – whether it be in prison or jail, or on probation or parole, according to new figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This is the lowest rate since 2000, and the third consecutive year in which the rate has declined. The number of people incarcerated also declined 1.3 percent, but the United States nonetheless remains the number one jailer in the world, with a rate of incarceration that far eclipses that in every other major developed nation.
The consequences of the U.S. system of mass incarceration extend far beyond individuals’ time in prison. Even after they are released, they are subject to supervision by the correction systems, and then to countless laws and policies that limit future opportunities for, or pave the way for discrimination against, those with criminal records in areas ranging from employment to housing. Many of these individuals become entrenched in this system because of nonviolent drug offenses.
This figure does not even include youth, and juvenile detention is an entirely separate and equally alarming system, fueled in part by the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately funnels minority students into the criminal justice system for school disciplinary violations. What’s more, many juveniles convicted of crimes are placed in adult prisons.