Prison Prison Policy Race

Fact Sheet Reveals Noteworthy National Incarceration Trends

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

A newly updated fact sheet from the Sentencing Project features some national prison trends over the last 30 years that are worth examining as US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump work to move the nation back toward “tough on crime” policies that the previous administration abandoned.

One startling national statistic is the fact that one in nine prisoners in the US is serving a life sentence. Since 1984, the number of people serving life has nearly quintupled, from 34,000, to 161,957 in 2016. The population of people serving life without parole sentences has experienced a similar boom, from 12,453 in 1992, to 53,290 in 2016.

When the nation’s 44,311 “virtual life” sentences are included, the total population of life sentences hits 206,268—or one out of every seven prisoners.

California doles out the largest number of life sentences of all the states. In 2016, there were nearly 39,700 lifers in CA prisons, compared with approximately 13,000 in Florida and 9,500 in New York.

State legislators are working to reduce the use of unnecessarily lengthy sentences, however. One bill in California, SB 620, would loosen a currently mandatory sentence enhancement of 10 years (or more) for people who use guns in the commission of a felony. The bill, introduced by CA Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) would give judges the power to consider mitigating circumstances, and decide whether to impose the enhancement.

The fact sheet also takes a look at enduring racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

One in three black boys born in 2001 will be incarcerated during their lifetime, compared with one 17 white boys, and one in six Latino boys born in 2001, the fact sheet shows.

People of color make up more than 60% of today’s prison population. During fiscal year 2013-2014, black people made up 35.4% of the prison population, while white people accounted for 33.8%, and Latinos made up 21.6%. The numbers are startling, particularly with regard to the population of black inmates, considering African Americans account for just 13.2% of the nation’s population.

The fact sheet also features statistics on incarceration rates for people convicted of drug crimes. Over a period of 35 years, the number of people locked up for drug crimes has shot up from 40,900 in 1980 to 469,545 in 2015. Mandatory minimums and other harsh sentencing laws also led to drug offenders spending more time behind bars. Back in 1986, people spent an average of 22 months in prison for federal drug offenses. In 2004, federal drug offenses landed people behind bars for an average of 62 months.

While progress has been made in states like California and Texas to reduce overall prison populations through criminal justice reforms (like CA’s prison realignment), the data shows there are still miles to go toward reducing disparities and the nation’s costly reliance on incarceration.

It’s particularly important to focus on facts and data as the Trump Administration pushes through initiatives that breathe new life into the laws and policies that emerged during the discredited “war on drugs,” and unravel the efforts of the bipartisan “smart on crime” movement.

In a memorandum sent out last month, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors to seek the most serious charges possible (including mandatory minimum sentences) for drug offenders.

The memo rolls back sentencing strategies put in place by former AG Eric Holder that directed federal prosecutors to stop seeking often-excessive mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no gang-ties.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Sessions argues that seeking these harsher punishments will counteract increasing crime rates across the nation, which Sessions attributes to the Justice Department having “softened its approach to drug offenders.”

In their own WaPo op-ed, Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, and David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, point out some of the glaring flaws with Sessions’ plan, including the fact that federal prosecutors handle under 10% of all criminal cases nationally, “so a modest change in their charging policy with respect to a subset of drug cases is unlikely to have a nationwide impact on crime.“

Furthermore, the people who did benefit from Holder’s policy reform did not have a “sustained history of crime or violence or any connections to major drug traffickers.”

And “dramatic variances” in violent crime rates from city to city, rather than a uniform increase in violent crime nationally, shows that federal sentencing reform is not responsible for changes in crime rates, Mauer and Cole write.

Instead of reinvigorating the war on drugs, the AG “would be smarter to examine local conditions that influence crime and violence, including policing strategies, availability of guns, community engagement and concentrated poverty.”


  • U.S. Citizen, you can have all the examination of the availability of guns, community evolvement and concentrated poverty that you want and it would not solve the problem. The root of the problem is the lack of the nuclear family and the failure of parents to teach their children proper respect and values. Until you have those key components, you ivory tower dreamers can continue to waste your hopes on the same government that buys $500 toilet seats.

  • Long Gone, you forgot the fear of god, Jesus Christ specifically. No doubt these heathen ivory tower dwellers are also missing the lord in their life. And, I thought the $500 toilet and $600 hammer myths were already debunked. I would pay the $500 for that toilet seat if some of the fine gentlemen that post on this site would dump all the “facts” they pull out of their ass into it. BTW, does that nuclear family you claim is missing, would it include two gay parent families?

  • cf, your anal fetish is showing (again), seriously clue us in on little jimmy ,how’s he doing now he’s out of the federal joint?

  • “Long Gone” – You’re correct regarding the nuclear family. Ideally that would suffice in a perfect world or at least “Plan A” “Plan B” would apply to those who do not reside with Wally or Theodore (Beaver) Cleaver. Many children of LEO families also fall prey. See last paragraph.

  • What Taylor leaves out is pretty sad, such is her role as SJW activist for her boss. Why is it that Blacks make up more of the prison population Taylor? What are the at risk factors they risk from birth that White and Hispanic youth from the most part don’t face? What stats do you leave out regarding violent crime, purposely I would guess, when it comes to who for their low population percentage commits such a high amount of it since you speak about that since you want to talk about their incarceration numbers.
    If I were to venture onto YouTube how many interracial violent acts do you think I could post where Blacks were most often the suspects compared to other races?
    Here’s the thing, and I’ll bring the troll cop hater CF into the conversation as well. You leftist that have been trying to keep Blacks down on the plantation for decades could really care less about them or you’d actually try to help them in a meaningful way rather than the odd case here and there and pat yourself on the back like you did something that was good.
    By actively working to release more criminals back into communities full of them or to reduce sentences for violent crimes you help nobody, especially those most likely to end up a victim.
    On to CF, a nuclear family is a man and a woman raising their kids in a loving and proper manner because each brings a different set of abilities and qualities to the table that when working together is the perfect combination to develop a child correctly.
    Absent that, sure two loving parents of the same sex dedicated to raising a functioning law abiding child is fine, but not having a male and female, to me is not the optimal setting a child needs. I grew up without a dad and know I missed out, no doubt about it so there are more curve balls out there.

    Anyway, Black young men will always be more of a crime issue until more of them grow up with a strong father figure in the home….period.

  • Sure Fire…, Gonna have to disagree. I don’t care what two or three people raise a child… Gay, straight, biracial…. who cares as long as they teach law abiding and broad values?

    CF…. When are you going to realize your black leaders want you uneducated, poor and powerless? It’s makes the Al Sharptons of the world relevant. Ask yourself, “What does Al Sharpton offer a well educated, employed , self empowered black person?” The answer is nothing. The opposite keeps so called leaders like Al empowered with lined pockets.

    The left was and always will be the party of slavery. Only today the government dependent are not in cotton fields, they’re in the welfare lines waiting for the left’s scraps. Those scraps get them votes.

  • Ownership I think you got the Al Sharpton thing backwards. It’s the well educated and employed blacks who have been the beneficiaries of the race racket. Affirmative action is pretty much there to push mid level blacks into upper level positions. The Obamas and Eric Holder being good examples, mid level talent (at best)pushed to the top. Affirmative action does almost nothing for the poor leaving them to rot in failing cities and schools poorly run by affirmative action administrators.
    B.T.W. don’t worry about cf he’s the same troll that’s been on this blog for awhile, pretty soon he’ll change his name and start arguing the opposite point of view. He’s easy to spot.

  • Come on, President Obama was elected into office for two terms by an overwhelming majority of the American people. Eric Holder was brought in as one “his team” just as all Presidents and executives do when they take over the controls. I didn’t agree with many of President Obama’s policies, especially towards the end of his second term, but can’t dismiss his rise as a result of affirmative action. That’s way off base.

    With regards to the cause and effect of criminal behavior and recitivsm, I agree that a breakdown of the family is a partial influence but a relaxation of societal expectations is also a major factor. I’m not a big fan of a couple staying together if their relationship is abusive and toxic. All this does is pass on a twisted example of adulthood and relationships which is not good either.

    I think the concerted effort of certain groups to remove prayer from public school as well as ethics and morality courses from schools is much of the blame. Kids spend a lot of time in school and if they aren’t getting good life lessons at home where else are they supposed to get them. Many of these at risk types just seem to grow up without any guidance or direction on how to be a productive adult. It then leaves society to me victimized by mentally stunted, socially immature adults. I mean chronoligical adults. if you want to call them adults.

  • Even the most casual look at Obama’s and Holders educations and careers reveal benefits from affative action policies. I’ll give them credit for one thing, their constant racial haranguing of white America and their legacy of burned out cities as well as a pretty impressive body count led to a Donald Trump presidenacy. That’s pretty good considering Trump would never have had a chance otherwise.

  • Conspiracy/Major Kong – I know its really hard to be a white man in America. What with several hundred years of slavery and a 100+ years of racist and oppressive government laws and policies keeping the white man down. The fact that you’ve risen above it all to become police officers is very impressive. I have seen pictures of whites who had to use separate water fountains just to drink water. As much as they wanted to, they couldn’t use the nice ones blacks had. Whites were also forced to use the front of the bus while blacks were comfortable in the back. Or, how about those restrictive covenants where good white folks could not buy homes in black neighborhoods. Why even up to the 60s and 70s there were still schools that whites could not go to. As much as they wanted to interact with Blacks, the law said white people had to stay in their schools. Yes, my white brothers, you have had it rough in this country.

    And, no doubt, if it weren’t for affirmative action, you, too, could have been president. After all, that negro Obama aint so smart that he would not have been president if blacks did not have it so easy. We all know he became a billionaire because his daddy left an estate worth $400 million, bailed him out of bankruptcy and lent him a few million dollars to play Monopoly. Not, like The Donald who got where he is through hard work. And, I’m sure Obama became president because his daddy was president and his daddy’s friends set up with a few failing businesses. Not like Bush II, who rose from nothing, beat a cocaine habit and fought valiantly in Nam, all without a father. Yes, you gentlemen are so right.

    Those good ole days of Jesus, anally repressive flag saluting, prayer in school, and blacks knowing their place are not coming back. I’m sure you long for the police force of your daddy when there were no coloreds and women, but thank god those days ain’t coming back. And, please do not bitch about affirmative action because the truth of the matter is that the black man is not taking your seat at school or work. If anyone should complaint, its probably a Korean or Chinese because they are the ones who are getting bumped, not you or your kids. Do not use affirmative action to excuse your or your kids inability to do better. Happy 4th of July.

  • CF…. A serious response to your last post.

    If you could respond without the sarcasm and claims of racism, your points would be well taken. Some of your posts have hidden points that are 100% valid. I’m as guilty as you of coming on here with sarcasm, insults and metaphors but when we do, our points of view are lost.

    Racism, sexism and bigotry are alive and well, and are not going away any time soon.

    Some on here, including me, feel the time for Affirmative Action and other entitlements have run their course. And this transcends race. Those programs, many feel, do an injustice to those these programs are intended to help. To me, they say the recipients are “less than” and need special treatment. The black community is littered with people who’ve proven black people are 100% equal. Condeleza (Sp?) Rice, Allan West, Colin Powell and every other black CEO, professor, business owner, lawyer, fireman and world leader.

    Sure there are Socioeconomic issues that still plague certain demographics, but the more we give the bigots of the world their attention, the more powerful they feel.

    Morgan Freemon was asked what he does about racism and the “N” word. He says he ignores it. The old saying, “If you ignore the bully, he’ll eventually go away” I feel strongly applies to the black community. The only reason the “N” word stings is because the ignorant bigots know damn well it will get them the reaction they desire.

  • Great post! I agree with you. When personalities and feelings are left out, any message is received more readily.

  • Ownership, I respectfully disagree. I believe that you believe, as do others, that such programs have run their course. And, we can point to individuals who have excelled in society and point to them as examples of what the rest of the race can accomplish, but they are mere data points. If we look at the condition of blacks in general in this country, however, we cannot help but see that they are not doing well on almost any metric you can use. They are more likely to be in poverty, more likely to be unemployed and under employed, more likely to be incarcerated, they still, all things equal, earn less than their white counterparts, they have significantly less household wealth than their white counterparts, etc, etc.

    And, unlike many on this site, I do not place the blame on blacks. Are there things that blacks can be doing to better their lot? Certainly, as there are things that poor Latinos and poor Whites can be doing. But, I think we fail to see the institutional factors. Life is not a sprint, but a long-distance relay race. And, where you start off depends very much on where ones parents left off, and our kids’ position in life will be dictated, to a larger degree than we’d like to admit, where you and I end off.

    I believe folks who hold your position fail to appreciate what several hundred years of slavery did to a people, what 100+ years more of institutional racism did to a people. And, more importantly, we fail to appreciate how recent this history has been, and that some, although things are unquestionably better, of these issue persist. To give you a few examples, most of this nation’s wealth is in real estate, and most people’s wealth is in their home. It was really FDR’s New Deal policies, for example the establishment of FHA, FHA loans and guarantees, that allowed most people to become homeowners. Families have then used the equity to send their kids to college or assist their kids with a down payment on a home and to pass it on at death. Blacks could not get these loans and where shut out of home ownership, even though many qualified. FHA would not insure loans in black neighborhoods and would not insure loans for blacks moving into white neighborhoods. These polices, government policies, have resulted in blacks being at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to household wealth. Its not that blacks save any less than Whites or are less thrifty than Whites, these were government policies. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination illegal in the employer had more that 25 employees. 1964! And, it took decades of litigation after that to enforce. Blacks where kept out many jobs and professions. And, to the dismay of my liberal friends, the unions were some of the most racist institutions. To date, the literature has shown that you send the same resume to employer, but change the name so that one has a “white” names, say Luke Smith, and another a “Black” name, say DeShawn Johnson, the white sounding name will be called. In fact, if both are qualified and you through in a few things that make the “black” resume better, the “White” person will be called. For the same crime, a black man is likely to get a less attractive plea bargain and, if tried, a longer sentence. We can go on. My Whites brethren will say that they did not do this, that they are not racist, and that they should not have to pay. However, those same people have benefited from the policies and actions that have kept people down, the same policies that kept them from the union or from a job, the same policies that kept them from certain neighborhoods, etc.

    We live in different worlds, I understand that. But, I cannot see how one can say that we, as a country, do not owe black people more or that what is left of affirmative action has run its course.

  • Cf, on second thought maybe you should just stick with the insults. I know you imagine yourself as some kind if intellect , but you’re coming across like a third rate junior college sociology professor. Your dismissal of “ownership” shows your true feelings ,and like that third rate professor your revealing yourself to be a pseudo elitist bore.

  • Maj Kong….. I emphatically disagree with you. CF’s reply was not a dismissal of my post at all. In fact it was respectful and filled with some very valid points and opinions.

    Where CF and I disagree is in entitlements. I feel they create generations of dependency. He feels differently and he’s entitled to that opinion. I thought his post was excellent and spurned some more civil debate.

  • Well ownership I agree with your opinion on entitlements but if your a cf fan I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that one.

  • Once again I concur with you also on C.F.’s latest post.
    The character with the pen name of “Major Kong” is all over the map attempting to agitate C.F., all to no avail. Your post (Ownership) invites valid conversation minus bullshitting banter and personal attacks.

  • So now Ownership is a C.F. fan because he differed from you in opinion? Grow up.

  • Major Kong: It’s going to sound stupid, but this nation could learn from what just happened with me and CF.

    We’re both guilty of coming on here with sarcasm and insults.

    After both of us put that crap aside, some true discussion started. With that, maybe something productive could someday happen.

    What a concept.

  • No it’s not stupid, it’s called maturity. Let’s face it….inside the comment section, outside of facts, the only things left are paper “Bad Asses” and opinions. The keyboard warriors remind me of cell soldiers in every county jail, who mirror chihuahuas behind the fence.

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