On any given day, nearly 7 million adult Americans are under the supervision of the nation’s criminal justice systems: in prison, on probation, or on parole.(1) That is more than 2 percent of the entire population and nearly 3 percent of the adult population.
If the US prison system were a state, it would be the 14th largest, just behind Washington and well ahead of Massachusetts.
Drill down and the numbers get even worse, particularly for men. More than 5 percent of all adult American men are currently under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Men make up over 90 percent of all prisoners, nearly 90 percent of people on parole and about 75 percent of people on probation.
All in all, about 1.3 percent of American men are hidden behind bars, completely out of sight of society. (2) Among black men ages 25-39, this figure rises to more than 6 percent in jail at any one time.(3) The proportion of black men who spend at least some part of their lives in jail is even higher, probably around one-quarter.
Our prisoners are increasingly being held in for-profit prisons operated by big prison services companies. Government statistics show that 8.7 percent of all prisoners and 18.6 percent of federal prisoners are held in private prisons. (4) Now that the genie is out of the bottle, industry lobbying will ensure that these numbers only go up.