REPORT: U.S. Mass Incarceration Incarcerates 5 Million People – 2 Million Disproportionately Black

By Olivia Biliunas

WASHINGTON, DC – Mass incarceration continues to be more prevalent in the U.S. than in most other countries, as discussed in a report by The Sentencing Project that added of the five million people incarcerated, two million are disproportionately Black—and that percentage has been increasing since the 1970’s.

The report acknowledges, “The social, moral, and fiscal costs associated with the large-scale, decades-long investment in mass imprisonment cannot be justified by any evidence of its effectiveness. Misguided changes in sentencing law and policy –not crime– account for the majority of the increase in correctional supervision.”

The incarceration rate is much higher than it was in the 1970s, with a peak in 2007 and further increases since 2020, adds the report, noting people of color make up the majority of people in prison accounting for nearly seven in 10 people, due to historically racial and ethnic insubordination and the harsher punishments enacted against them.

“While Black Americans are vastly over-represented in the prison population, this disparity widens for those serving lengthy sentences. Mass incarceration instigates numerous poor physical, psychological, and economic outcomes for the people who experience imprisonment, for their families, as well as for the broader community,” the report said.

Half of the federal prison population holds people for drug offenses, which is contrary to the common misconception that federal prison is for violent crimes, added the report, noting the increase for drug offenses stemmed from “the utilization of broadly punitive mandatory minimum and three-strikes policies.”

The report cited “The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 established the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) with the primary task of creating sentencing guidelines for the purpose of limiting the discretion of sentencing judges at the federal level.”

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 resulted in mandatory minimums for these drug offenses when similar drugs, cocaine and crack, produced different serving minimums…by 2005 the average serving time federally was an average of seven years, the report observed.

The report said the Fair Sentencing Act and the First Step Act are both recent acts that are retroactive to drug offenses, allowing around 4,000 people to receive help from the previous damages done.

Women have also been largely impacted by mass incarceration, like people of color, with increased rates over the past decades, the article explained, citing, “from 2021 to 2022,” the incarceration rate was more “than double (four percent) that of men (one and one-half percent).

“Historically, life sentences came with the expectation of release; they were used to encourage good behavior among people who were incarcerated. Individuals were typically released in 10-15 years through parole or executive clemency,” the report read.

But, the report added, in recent years, the number of people serving life without parole has increased to an all-time high, which is six times higher than before.

The report also highlighted, “Long sentences also do little to deter criminal behavior because criminal engagement is often not rational and not carried out with a sophisticated understanding of the criminal code that determines punishment.

“As of 2022, 4.4 million Americans were unable to vote due to state laws restricting voting rights for those with felony convictions” with African Americans leading that number, the report shared.

The report stated, “The life history of individuals in prison shows that, more often than not, they committed their crimes after major setbacks — addiction, loss of jobs or housing  — for which they received little support” and “we need to reprioritize public investments and policies with an emphasis on crime prevention and restoration of communities over punishment.”

People of color, women and youth have all been affected by the mass incarceration trends that have increased throughout the decades in the U.S. and the nation needs to rethink its actions about how to respond to those who commit crimes, the article concluded.

About The Author

Olivia Biliunas is a fourth year student at UC Davis pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Professional Writing. With a passion for the field of law she hopes to one day find herself making an impact on other people's lives as a lawyer. In her spare time she loves to go skiing and wakesurfing.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for