Mass Incarceration in the USA: A nation behind bars

USA prison







The United States of America incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. Currently, the prison population stands at roughly 2.2 million, with the figures showing that nearly 1 in every 100 adults in the USA is behind bars.

In a recent report entitled ‘Nation Behind Bars: A Human Rights Solution’, Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that mass incarceration in the USA is wrongly regarded to be “… a medicine that cures all ills…”

Co-author of the report and senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch, Jamie Fellner, said, “The ‘land of the free’ has become a country of prisons.” The report offered a number of suggestions that could serve to address the problem of mass incarceration in the USA. The primary suggestion was to encourage legislators to “ensure that the severity of the punishment does not exceed the gravity of the crime.”

Many of those incarcerated in the USA are behind bars for non-violent crimes and it’s estimated that $80 billion per year is spent on corrections alone, this figure excluding expenditure on other justice sector bodies such as the police and the courts.

Another recent report, this one by the National Research Council, traces trends in incarceration in the USA over the last 4 decades, demonstrating the 40 year spike in prison population numbers. The study concluded that currently the cost outweighed the benefits, showing that while incarceration levels have increased almost exponentially, crime levels have continued to fluctuate.

Read more on mass incarceration in the USA here:

USA Human Rights Watch report

New York Times editorial – End mass incarceration now

The meteoric costly and unprecedented rise of incarceration in America

How many people are locked up in the USA, a pie-chart depiction

Incarceration Nation


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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