The number of convicts under the supervision of federal or state penitentiary agencies reached a record high of 771,243 by the end of 1990. The states and the District of Columbia added 52,331 inmates, while the federal system added 6,355 convicts. The largest increase was among state prisoners, who accounted for more than half of all prison admissions in 1990. The rate of incarceration has increased for most of the past 30 years.
In 1990, the average cost of maintaining an inmate in a federal facility was $22,869 per year. The total annual budget of all federal prisons is about $7 billion.
In 1990, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. It was also the only country to increase its number of prisoners during the 1980s. In 2001, the U.S. prison population was 2.5 million people, or approximately 5% of the world's population.
Of these prisoners, 1 million are estimated to be foreign-born. This represents about 8% of the world's immigrant population.
The second largest group of immigrants in prison consists of Latinos, primarily Mexicans. Since 1990, the number of Mexican citizens imprisoned has increased by 85%.
Almost one in three men in prison is from California. Florida follows with 13%, then Texas with 12%.
The number of federal prisoners has increased from 25,000 in 1980 to 219,000 now, according to a recent Congressional Research study. That's an almost 790 percent increase. State prisons have seen their numbers rise by only about 50 percent, from 553,000 to 810,000.
In addition to this up-tick, two new states have been admitted to the Union and several others have expanded their correctional systems. The result is more space available inside prison walls for those who have entered into custody.
When Congress passed the Prison Act of 1816, its intention was to reduce the number of inmates in British prison colonies by sending them back to their countries of origin. However, rather than reducing the number of inmates, this law has had the opposite effect.
Imprisonment rates were high at this time, and because there were still many crimes for which there was no punishment provided by law, judges often imposed sentences of imprisonment together with a fine. The lack of any real alternative led to a rapid increase in both the number of people in prison and the length of their sentences. By 1840, one out of every 100 Americans was behind bars.
After a decline during the Civil War and following World War II, the number of inmates again began to climb in the 1960s.
The American criminal justice system houses nearly 2.3 million people in 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian Country jails, as well as military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and state psychiatric hospitals. This represents about 4% of the world's population.
The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. In 2012, it was 743 per 100,000 people. At this rate, it would take 17 years from now to reduce the prison population by one half.
Crime in America is at an all-time low. The number of people in prison for drug offenses is also at an all-time high. There are simply not enough beds available in prison health care systems to treat all sick inmates. To put this into perspective, there were approximately 2.3 million people incarcerated in 2009. That's more than the total populations of most countries.
The cost of incarcerating a person in the United States is $26,000 per year. This does not include the social costs associated with imprisonment, such as increased rates of poverty, disease, and death among family members. It also doesn't account for the value of the human capital that's lost when we imprison individuals rather than investing in their education or employment opportunities.
However, the nation's jail population surged by about 134 percent during the 1980s. At the end of 1980, almost 330,000 people were incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the United States. By the end of 1990, the figure had risen to 771,000. The number of people locked up in local jails also increased during this time period, rising from 1 million to 2 million.
Of those imprisoned at the end of 1990, more than half (56 percent) were male and 44 percent were female. Young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 made up a third of all inmates (33 percent). Black Americans accounted for 69 percent of all persons incarcerated at the end of 1990. They were followed by whites (16 percent), Hispanics (5 percent), and others (1 percent).
The rate of incarceration for blacks rose during the 1980s, while that for whites decreased. In 1980, there were approximately 2.3 prisoners per 100 residents behind bars in the United States. This number comprised 0.7 prisoners per 100 residents for black Americans and 4.6 prisoners per 100 residents for white Americans. By 1990, there were nearly 5.5 prisoners per 100 residents in jail cells across the country. This increase occurred despite reductions in crime over this same period. The rate of imprisonment for blacks increased when compared with that of whites or other racial groups.
It is important to note that incarceration rates vary greatly between states.