New Report Offers Big Picture Look at Mass Incarceration

By Shani Saxon Mar 19, 2019

This year’s installment of the Prison Policy Initiative’s annual "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019” uses updated data to answer key questions about incarceration in the United States. The report shines a light on "confined populations too often overlooked," and provides clarity around how many people are locked up, where they are being held and why they are behind bars. From the report:


Every year, over 600,000 people enter prison gates, but people go to jail 10.6 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because most people in jails have not been convicted. Some have just been arrested and will make bail within hours or days, while many others are too poor to make bail and remain behind bars until their trial. Only a small number (less than 150,000 on any given day) have been convicted, and are generally serving misdemeanors sentences under a year. 

"The Whole Pie" also works to debunk what it calls myths about incarceration, including the idea that "releasing ‘nonviolent drug offenders’ would end mass incarceration," "private prisons are the corrupt heart of mass incarceration" and "people in prison for violent or sexual crimes are too dangerous to be released."

It also explores juvenile confinement and immigration-related offenses and addresses racial disparities that corrupt the system:


Beyond identifying the parts of the criminal justice system that impact the most people, we should also focus on who is most impacted and who is left behind by policy change. Poverty, for example, plays a central role in mass incarceration. People in prison and jail are disproportionately poor compared to the overall U.S. population. The criminal justice system punishes poverty, beginning with the high price of money bail…. It’s no surprise that people of color—who face much greater rates of poverty—are dramatically overrepresented in the nation’s prisons and jails. These racial disparities are particularly stark for Black Americans, who make up 40 percent of the incarcerated population despite representing only 13 percent of U.S residents. 

The Prison Policy Initiative hopes the report will inform conversations around prison reform. The author, Wendy Sawyer, stresses the importance of clarity around this urgent issue. "With such high public support for criminal justice reform," she began, "it’s urgent that we have a clear picture of who is locked up and where."

Read the full report here