Our $39 Billion Incarceration Epidemic Explained in One Infographic

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Nagel Photography/Shutterstock
If someone asks you what America does better than the rest of the world, a few things may come quickly to mind: high tech, entertainment, energy and fast food, for example. But there's another answer that's less cheery: The U.S. leads the world in imprisoning people.

For petty crime, drug offenses or violence, no other nation in the world puts more people per capita behind bars than we do. When you add up federal, state and local prisons, immigration detention centers, juvenile facilities, military prisons, and Native American-run facilities, the U.S. has 2.4 million people locked up, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. For perspective, that's 1.5 times as many people per capita as the Russian Federation imprisons. States take the biggest haul, with 1.4 million prisoners, followed by local jails and, bringing up the rear, the federal government.

There are 722,000 people in local jails at any given time, 59 percent of whom have yet to be convicted of a crime. However, the churn is immense, with 12 million people rotating in and out of local jails every single year.

Keeping that many people locked up is anything but cheap. The Vera Institute of Justice estimated that in 2010, the cost of U.S. prisons was $39 billion -- $5.4 billion more than is budgeted for them.

American ingenuity has also turned incarceration into an immensely profitable business. Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) claims to be "the nation's largest owner of partnership correction and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and three states." Last year, that translated into $1.7 billion in revenues. The Geo Group (GEO) -- which owns, leases, and runs correctional and re-entry facilities in five countries, including the U.S. -- wasn't far behind with $1.5 billion in 2013 revenue.

Here are some more fascinating and disturbing facts about America's incarceration industry. (To enlarge the graphic, just click on it.)

America's prison business explained
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Its the lawyers industry at its finest. At least they have created something viable, instead of moving money from one pocket to another. They have produced tens of thousands of jobs. Kudos to them!!!!

June 07 2014 at 11:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Need to start brining the population down with more executions. Less lawyers more hangings for the scum bags that have killed people.

May 29 2014 at 12:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the federal prison system is loaded with fraud waste and abuse. Lots of wasted and stolen money by people working the system.

May 29 2014 at 6:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are lots of jobs associated with the prison industry , not just the immediate prison staff but countless support behind the scenes .

USA is like a big ranch , where the livestock are the NON rich.

The rich, judges, DA's, police , politicians rarely go to prison . Only the livestock go .

May 29 2014 at 3:37 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Mary Ann & Mike

Worked in a state prison for men for 10 months and its the never ending line of new arrivals dressed in orange prison garb. Crimes range from murder, multiple murders, armed robberies, high speed chases, child molestation, rape, mayhem, assaults, home invasions, concealed weapons, drug possession, sales, distribution, domestic battery, terrorist threats - it goes on and on. Some are crimes against humanity, some are due to drug fueled behavior, mental illness, generational criminals. Some get very long sentences, many are repeat offenders. Gangs are a big problem both in and out of jail. Cruelty among the prisioners is rampant as can be fellowship. There is no rehabilitation and that's what's needed. Its all warehousing.

May 29 2014 at 2:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Earl Fromley

you can thank lawyers and politicians for this,big money in representing crooks and payouts to judges!

May 29 2014 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you are wealthy, the laws won't apply to you like everyone else. In Peoria, IL the President of Brewers Distributing got drunk and shot up his neighbors house with a .280 rifle. He went to court, got 6 months of court supervision, his guns returned to him, he got to keep his FOID card and go hunting while on supervision, and his probation officer took his file from the stack so he wouldn't get drug tested. Had that been someone poor or black, they would have done 5 years in prison and been branded for life.

May 29 2014 at 12:18 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Criminals should do what they can to destroy society with acts of vandalism and violence.. That is about the only thing that will make the government change their position. It's how the blacks got civil rights in the 1960's.

May 29 2014 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The result of cops arresting anybody and everybody for anything and everything

May 28 2014 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So with all of the smoke and mirrors and the charts and graphs, I get the feeling that we are a nation of criminals. IF we let all of the petty criminals go and abolished the death penalty, we we then be more in line with say for instance Britan or France? Liberals tell us we can be just like Europe if would just do as they do! Is that really a goal to shoot for, is that the country we wish to become FRANCE.....seriously? AND on top of that the govenrment wants to disarm the public....making a larger herd of sheeple with out any of the sheep dogs and shepards! More petty criminals and less firearms......NOPE NOT ME thank you!

I remember the 60s when they let all of the mentally ill out of hosp[itals and facilities......WOW what a shock when they had no where to go and ended up downtown 24/7. It turned the mental health issue into a police/security/criminal problem. SO How many of those in jail are really mentally ill and should not be incarerated in criminal facilities?

May 28 2014 at 8:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to HOn3Modeler's comment
Jim Anderson

I watched that in MA. They closed the Wrentham State School. One of the "clients" moved into a duplex under Chapter 766, and there was an immediate issue. This "adjusted" client simply crawled up ito the attic and down into the other side where he went around and looked for what interested him: The teen aged daughter's panties.... in the basement wash..SICK! Many of them wound up in the street and yes, in jail. A great idea, MA.

May 28 2014 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply