Mass Incarceration – An Established Tradition in the U.S.


The phrase “Mass Incarceration” has become synonymous with a failed criminal justice system, but millions of people were incarcerated years before we acknowledged mass criminalization.[1]  The data show that the prison population had bloated before policymakers and the public recognized it was out of control.

In the 1970s, the U.S. decided that prison was the answer to combating crime, however, studies show that the high incarceration rate didn’t reduce serious crimes. Between 1993 and 2001, the prison population increased by 66%, but serious crime only reduced by 2-5%. During the same period, the U.S. spent $53 billion to support imprisonment policies – a high price of using many tax dollars for a low reduction in crime.[2]

Although the U.S. was incarcerating at exorbitant rates, credit goes to author, Michelle Alexander, for publishing prison facts in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Shocking statistics included in The New Jim Crow increased its popularity as readers shared the discoveries on social media encouraging advocates to pressure policymakers for prison reform.

What exactly were these shocking facts about prison?

The Prison Capital of the World   

Although the U.S. comprises less than 5% of the global population, it holds 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.[3] When divided by geographical regions, the U.S. South holds a larger share of people in prison.[4]

The non-profit Prison Policy Initiative compared individual U.S. States to other countries in the world. If each state were its own country, Louisiana would be in 1st place giving it the nickname of, “the world’s prison capital.” Louisiana has a long history of a high incarceration rate since it first began to use prisons in response to social problems. Between 1925 and 1940, the Louisiana inmate population increased by more than 50% with many locked up for low-level crime.[5]

Louisiana isn’t alone. If Texas were a country, it would come in as having the 8th largest prison population.  Although we’ve slowed down the rate at which we imprison, we haven’t made an effort to take out people who are already in prison. [6]

Racial Composition in Prisons

The U.S. created an incapacitation state by playing on the fear that inner-city America, mainly composed of racial minorities, was creating a generation of criminals. The racist imprisonment policies jailed many African-Americans.[7]

Today, racial disparities worsen mass incarceration since African Americans make up the majority of the inmate population. In Texas, 2,855 African-Americans are incarcerated per 100,000 people compared to 768 Whites per 100,000 people. [8]


Prisons have done little to reduce crime rates. Instead, the U.S. finds itself with millions of citizens behind bars.

Even though mass criminalization had been in practice for years, it wasn’t a salient issue until citizens and politicians acknowledged the problem thanks to research from non-profits and activists. Further, the use of social media has spread the research on mass incarceration and pressured policymakers to respond.

Whatever decision is made in response to mass incarceration, States will be pivotal to changing imprisonment policy since a larger percentage of the prison population remains in State penitentiaries.[9]

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Gilbert Garcia has been Passionately Pursuing Justice for over 30 years and founded The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm in 2008. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is a boutique law firm, specializing in Criminal Defense. Gilbert represents adults and juveniles accused of a crime and who have with a felony, misdemeanor or record cleaning case. Conveniently located on the courthouse square to serve Montgomery and Walker Counties. Gilbert became Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1989. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is located at 220 N. Thompson St., Suite 202, Conroe, TX 77301.