America’s Big, Expensive Correctional System: A Look at the Numbers

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Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Everyone knows that the American penal system is imperfect — one might even go so far as to say deeply flawed. This is perhaps a reflection of the size and demand of the U.S. incarceration rate. With such an enormous beast of a system to contend with, things are bound to be imperfect, given how ill prepared most administrative machinery is. Just how big is the U.S. penal system, and how much does it cost to run it? The answer is, unsurprisingly, that the U.S. prison population is huge, and that it costs — you guessed it — quite a lot.

In 2008 The New York Times pointed out that the U.S. population represented only 5 percent of the global population, but that it holds nearly 25 percent of the total world prison population. The most recent stats offered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of individuals in the adult correctional system at 6.9 million by the end of 2012. 2008 put the prison population at 1.6 million, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and in 2011 the U.S. still had the highest prison population in the world, with half of the total world prison population made up for by the U.S., Russia, and China alone — according to a report from the International Centre for Prison Studies.

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