Nearly 12% of black males in their late 20s are incarcerated, and overall 4.7% of black males are in prison or jail. Overall, as compared to other countries, we have high incarceration rates:
Incarceration Rates, by Kieran Healy, Crooked Timber: Via Chris Uggen, some new Bureau of Justice Statistics for incarceration in the United States as of mid-2005. Imprisonment rose by 1.6 percent on the pervious year, and jail populations rose by 4.7 percent, for a total of just over 2.1 million people behind bars. The total population in prison has gone up by almost 600,000 since 1995.
Women make up 12.7 percent of jail inmates. Nearly 6 in 10 offenders in local jails are racial or ethnic minorities. In mid-2005, the BJS reports that “nearly 4.7 percent of black males were in prison or jail, compared to 1.9 percent of Hispanic males, and 0.7 percent of white males. Among males in their late 20s, nearly 12 percent of black males, compared to 3.9 percent of Hispanic males and 1.7 percent of white males, were incarcerated.” State by state, “Louisiana and Georgia led the nation in percentage of their state residents incarcerated (with more than 1 percent of their state residents in prison or jail at midyear 2005). Maine and Minnesota had the lowest rates of incarceration (with 0.3 percent or less of their state residents incarcerated).”
(You can get this figure as a PDF file if you like.)
Comparative context is provided by Roy Walmsley’s World Prison Population List. The U.S. has an overall incarceration rate of 738 per 100,000 people, the highest in the world. Belarus, Russia and Bermuda (!) come next, distantly trailing with rates in the 530s. Fifty eight percent of countries have incarceration rates below 150 per 100,000. There is a lot of heterogeneity within continents. I left China out of the figure above—its incarceration rate is 118, but this only includes 1.55 million sentenced prisoners, not trial detainees or those in “administrative detention.”
A June, 2004 study on state prison costs in 2001 for the Department of Justice found:
The average annual operating cost per State inmate in 2001 was $22,650... Among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it was $22,632 per inmate...
This is not a trivial cost. I wonder how state budgets, estimates of Social Security solvency, unemployment rates, etc. would be affected if all of the people incarcerated for drug sales were released, or if you find that objectionable, if our incarceration rates were equivalent to those in other developed countries and the usual numbers for this population were able to find employment.