The numbers are disturbing. More than 2.2 million inmates currently fill prisons in the United States. One out of every 143 Americans is incarcerated—seven times the rate in Europe—and one in five of these prisoners is serving a sentence of 25 years or more.
Not only is the size of the American prison population growing, it is increasingly skewed racially. African-American males make up 6 percent of the U.S. population but 40 percent of prisoners, and black men on average receive longer prison sentences than do their white counterparts. According to one estimate, “the odds of an African-American man going to prison today are higher than the odds that he will go to college, get married, or go into the military.” Evidence of racial profiling in the justice system persists. In New York, for example, police made 684,330 stops in 2011; 80 percent involved people of color.
Meanwhile, one in nine government employees in the United States now works in corrections. A growing number of states now spend more money annually on prisons than they do on education, yet prison overcrowding is chronic, and rehabilitation programs for inmates are being downsized or eliminated.