Prison Boom: an Update on the Facts

After remaining steady for almost 100 years, imprisonment rates increased from 111 in 1974 to nearly 500 by 2000; anti-prison activist refer to this surge as the ‘prison boom’. Currently, 1.5 million people are in prison and more than 7 million are under some form of correctional control. Not only this 4.5 million people have been to prison at some point in their lives and are now back in their communities suffering from a variety of legalized discrimination. And it’s not only the scale of imprisonment, but also the color. Blacks are six times more likely than whites to be imprisoned and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be imprisoned. And while racial disparity in imprisonment has been a social reality since emancipation, the prison boom increases the impact of this disparity. In addition to all of this, between 1974 and 1996, women’s chances of going to prison at some point during their lives increased 6 times; men’s increased 3 times during the same period. As a result, while in 1980, only 4% of prisoners were women, by 2000, more than 7% Black women and white men have nearly the same chances of serving time: 3.6% and 4.4% respectively.

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