7.12. Who Goes to Prison?

David Carter and Kate McLean

The types of people that end up in prison are quite different than individuals that go to jail. Almost all people that go to prisons in the United States are people that have been convicted of felony-level crimes and will be serving more than a year. To give you a more detailed depiction of this, see the image below.

People Incarcerated in the U.S.

Pie chart showing the distribution of U.S. prisoners in 2022
Individuals incarcerated in state and federal jails and prisons, as of March 2022

Focusing in on the left side of the graphic, there are roughly 1,042,000 State Prisoners. More than half (58%) are incarcerated for violent crimes. Property crimes and Drug crimes represent the 2nd and 3rd most common offenses for the state prisoners. This graphic also shows us how many more individuals are in state vs. federal institutions, with “only” 208,000 individuals incarcerated in the latter group. You may also noticed how drug offenders are represented at a much higher level in federal institutions – over 40% of all federal inmates (vs. 14% of all state inmates.)

Roughly 93% of prison inmates – compared to jail inmates – are male. In jail, that percentage is roughly 82% male. Across all detention facilities, there are stark racial disparities as well, as shown in the graph below and discussed further in subsequent chapters.

Racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. correctional facilities



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Introduction to the U.S. Criminal Justice System Copyright © 2019 by David Carter and Kate McLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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