Can it really be true that most people in jail are being held before trial? And how much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs? These questions are harder to answer than you might think, because our country’s systems of confinement are so fragmented. The various government agencies involved in the justice system collect a lot of critical data, but it is not designed to help policymakers or the public understand what’s going on. Meaningful criminal justice reform that reduces the massive scale of incarceration, however, requires that we start with the big picture.
This report offers some much needed clarity by piecing together this country’s disparate systems of confinement. The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 1,852 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2005, the number of youth facilities is from page 3 of Juvenile Residential Facility Census, 2014, the number of jails from Census of Jails: Population Changes, 1999-2013 and the number of Indian Country jails from Jails in Indian Country, 2016. We aren’t currently aware of a good source of data on the number of the facilities of the other types." style="color: #e74c00; text-decoration: none; position: relative; z-index: 5; top: -0.2em; box-sizing: border-box; display: inline-block; padding: 0.325em; margin: 0px 0.1em 0px 0.2em; height: 1em; width: 1.6em; border: none; border-radius: 0.6em; font-family: Futura, 'Tw Cen MT', sans-serif; font-size: 14px; cursor: pointer; background-color: #e7e7e7; backface-visibility: hidden; line-height: 0; vertical-align: middle; transition: opacity 0.25s;" href="https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2018.html#" id="fnref:1" data-footnote-number="1" class="footnote-button" data-footnote-identifier="1"> And we go deeper to provide further detail on why people are locked up in all of those different types of facilities.
This big-picture view allows us to focus on the most important drivers of mass incarceration and identify important, but often ignored, systems of confinement. The detailed views bring these overlooked parts of the “pie” to light, from immigration detention to civil commitment and youth confinement. In particular, local jails often receive short shrift in larger discussions about criminal justice, but they play a critical role as “incarceration’s front door” and have a far greater impact than the daily number suggests.
[For more on this story by Peter Wagner and Wendy Sawyer, go to https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2018.html]