For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
Sure, this is a country of excess. But having the highest incarceration rate in the world, and so contoured around race, is nothing to be proud of. This represents far more than an image problem, it’s a real self-image problem, an identity crisis, a sign of deep social and political illness. Symptoms abound.