imprisonment rates through the twentieth century and by comparing rates of incarceration in the United States with those in other countries. The chapter then explores the fundamental question of the relationship of the growth in incarceration to crime. To this end, it summarizes two lines of research: the first relates trends in imprisonment to trends in rate of arrests per crime and the chances of prison admission, while the second focuses on the high rate of incarceration among African Americans, calculating how much of the racial disparity in incarceration can be explained by racial disparities in arrests and offending. The following section elaborates on the analysis of racial disparity in incarceration by reporting incarceration rates for whites and minorities, at different ages and different levels of education. That analysis reveals that incarceration rates among prime-age, minority men with very low levels of schooling are extraordinarily high.

The empirical portrait presented in this chapter points strongly to the role of changes in criminal justice policy in the emergence of historically and comparatively unprecedented levels of penal confinement. As a result of the lengthening of sentences and greatly expanded drug law enforcement and imprisonment for drug offenses, criminal defendants became more likely to be sentenced to prison and remained there significantly longer than in the past. The policy shifts that propelled the growth in incarceration had disproportionately large effects on African Americans and Latinos. Indeed, serving time in prison has become a normal life event among recent birth cohorts of African American men who have not completed high school.


The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has reported the incarceration rate for state and federal prisons from 1925 to 2012 (see Figure 2-1). Through the middle of the twentieth century, from 1925 to 1972, the combined state and federal imprisonment rate, excluding jails, fluctuated around 110 per 100,000 population, rising to a high of 137 in 1939. As noted earlier, after this period of relative stability, the imprisonment rate grew rapidly and continuously from 1972, increasing annually by 6 to 8 percent through 2000. The rate of growth slowed in the first decade of the 2000s, reaching a peak of 506 per 100,000 in 2007 and 2008. This high plateau was sustained through the end of the decade. In 2012, the imprisonment rate of 471 per 100,000 was still 4.3 times the historical average of 110 per 100,000. If the numbers in jail are added, the incarceration rate totaled 767 per 100,000 in 2007 and 707 per 100,000 in 2012 (Glaze and Herberman, 2013). When stated in absolute numbers rather than rates, the growth in the size of the penal population has been extraordinary: in 2012, the total of 2.23 million people held in U.S. prisons and jails was nearly seven times the number in

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