and jail population had grown to 2.23 million people, and the United States had by far the highest reported rate of incarceration in the world. Today, adult incarceration rates of the Western European democracies average around 100 per 100,000, and in the common law countries of Australia and Canada, the rates are only slightly higher. The U.S. rate in 2012 was seven times higher, at 707 per 100,000. At this level of penal confinement, the United States (accounting for about 5 percent of the world’s population) holds close to 25 percent of the global incarcerated population.
CONCLUSION: The growth in incarceration rates in the United States over the past 40 years is historically unprecedented and internationally unique.
The growth of incarceration rates, beginning in 1972, followed a tumultuous period of social and political change (see Chapter 4). From 1962 to 1972, the annual number of homicides had climbed from 8,530 to 18,670. Homicide was just one indicator of declining public safety, as the overall violent crime rate doubled in that same decade (Maguire, n.d., Table 3.106.2011). If rising crime were the only new social trend of the 1960s, the link between crime and incarceration might be clear-cut. But political activism and race relations also came to a boil. Civil rights action and conservative reaction produced a contentious and sometimes violent politics that blurred the line between protest and disorder. The civil rights acts themselves upended the racial order of the south and outlawed discrimination in labor and housing markets across the country. In short, the period of rising crime accompanied a period of intense political conflict and a transformation of U.S. race relations.
Cities also were transformed. Riotous unrest culminated in the Kerner Commission (1968) report that surveyed dozens of incidents of disorder in 23 cities. The Commission, struggling to untangle a complex mix of crime, racial inequality, and politics, famously concluded that the nation was moving to “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Rising crime and disorder were accompanied by declining manufacturing sector employment in inner cities, classically described in William Julius Wilson’s (1987) The Truly Disadvantaged. In Wilson’s analysis, the outmigration of whites and working class blacks left behind pockets of concentrated disadvantage. These poor, racially segregated neighborhoods were characterized not just by high rates of crime but also by an array of other problems, including high rates of unemployment and widespread single parenthood. It was in these neighborhoods, decades later, where the effects of incarceration were felt most strongly.
Historic changes in politics, race relations, and urban life provided the context in which policy makers wrestled with the crime problem. Rising