Despite the US being the self-proclaimed land of the free, according to The Sentencing Project, an organization that does research on and advocacy about our criminal justice system, the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. In 2013, 716 out of every 100,000 individuals were incarcerated, meaning that over 2.2 million people are currently behind bars in our country’s prisons and jails.
The prison population in the US wasn’t always so enormous, but since the 70s, it has increased by 500%. This massive increase is due to policy changes that began in the 1980s including the “War on Drugs” and “tough on crime” policies such as mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws. Unfortunately, many studies show that the War on Drugs is failing, and is doing more harm than good by damaging communities while providing no real resources to help the problem of addiction.
But despite the fact that our “tough on crime” policies are not working, we continue to pour resources into the prison system and building even more prisons and jails. Studies show that states now spend more on incarceration than on education.