It's Not Enough to Be Angry

By Jarvis Benson and Shailly Gupta Barnes

(with support from Jessica Katzenstein with the Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University)

The United States leads the world in incarceration. There are 2.3 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years, who are disproportionately people of color and poor, across race. Despite making up close to 5% of the global population, the U.S. has nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. The incarcerated population is disproportionately people of color and poor. At the end of 2019, per 100,000 residents across racial groups, there were 1,096 Black prisoners, 525 Latino prisoners, and 214 White prisoners.

Criminal System

  • The American criminal system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.
  • Of the 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons in 2016, 8.5 percent were incarcerated in private prisons.
  • One out of every three Black boys born today can expect to be sentenced to prison, compared to 1 out 6 Latino boys and one out of 17 White boys. Native youth are approximately three times more likely to be confined than White youth.
  • 7% of adults in the US are under correctional supervision. That equates to one out of every 37 adults in the United States.
  • At least 5.1 million people, including 1 in 16 Black adults, cannot vote due to felony convictions
  • One out of 44 adults – 2.27 percent of the total U.S. voting-eligible population–is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.

Criminalizing the Poor

  • Adults in poverty are three times more likely to be arrested than those who are not poor. People earning less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level are 15 times more likely to be charged with a felony.
  • In 2015, incarcerated people had a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration. This is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages.
  • Although the 13th Amendment brought the abolition of slavery, the criminal-exception loophole created conditions for the exploitation of incarcerated people. These workers earn between 86 cents and $3.45 per day in prison jobs. In at least five states, these jobs pay nothing at all.
  • Society outside prison walls benefits from the labor of the incarcerated. 6% of incarcerated people produce goods and provide services that are sold to government agencies. Some provide services for public or nonprofit agencies, and more and more people work for private businesses that contract with correctional agencies.
  • The median felony bail bond amount ($10,000) is the equivalent of 8 months’ income for the typical detained defendant. In fact, in a 2014 report from the Department of Justice, they write that 95% of the growth in the incarcerated population from 2000 to 2014 was from people who could not afford bail. Pre-trial detention of the poor is a leading cause of the growing number of people held in jails.
  • Women held in local jails are the fastest-growing segment of incarcerated people in the United States, and the majority of them are Black or Latina.

Police Violence

  • There are somewhere between 900 and 1,100 people who are shot and killed by police in the United States each year.
  • Although more white people have been killed by police, Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans are disproportionately impacted: white people make up a little over 60% of the population, they only make up about 41% of fatal police shootings. Black people make up 13.4% of the population, but 22% of fatal police shootings. Native Americans are the group with the highest rates of police killings.
  • More than 2,600 Latinos were killed by police or died while in custody between 2014 and May of 2021. Over 1,400 Asian/Pacific Islanders and 272 Native Americans were killed by police violence during the same period.
  • LGBTQ+ people are six times more likely than the general public to be stopped by police.
  • Trans people are almost four times more likely to experience police violence than cisgender people — people whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex — according to the Anti-Violence Project.
  • Women account for less than 4 percent of fatal police shootings, but almost 20 percent of the women fatally shot by police are Black, even though Black women make up only around 13 percent of women in the U.S.
  • LGBTQ women are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal legal system, and 21 percent of transgender women have been incarcerated during their lifetime (this number only increases for Black and brown transgender women).

Immigration and Incarceration

  • Each year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains over 100,000 immigrants, including people who have lived in the U.S. for decades, parents of U.S. citizens, and individuals who come to the country seeking safety.
  • Over 39,000 people are civilly detained by ICE, not for any crime, but simply for their undocumented immigrant status.
  • At least 3,600 unaccompanied children are held in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), awaiting placement with parents, family members, or friends.
  • Since 2003, over 200 people have died while detained in ICE facilities, including 7 children.

Cost of Policing

  • The system of mass incarceration costs the government and families of justice-involved people at least $182 billion every year. Spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of spending on Pre‐K‐12 public education in the last thirty years.
  • U.S. taxpayers are spending $540 million a year just to detain prisoners at Guantánamo, which comes to nearly $13 million annually per prisoner.
  • By 2022, the post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and elsewhere have cost about $8 trillion total.
  • Through the 1033 program, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies have received over 520,000 items, worth hundreds of millions of dollars — rifles, tanks, military aircraft, and more — of military equipment from the Department of Defense.
  • Local governments also rely on policing to pay for government services. More than 730 municipalities get at least 10% of their revenue from fines and fees. In many cases, officers’ salaries — and sometimes, the size of the police force — depend on ticket revenue.

This is why the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has been calling for the following around policing, incarceration, and criminalization:

  • Expand the right to vote to the currently and formerly incarcerated.
  • Demilitarize the police.
    • End the 1033 program that sends military equipment into local and state law enforcement. End all military training programs for local and state police.
    • Ban the use of force as a punitive measure or means of retaliation against people who are unarmed.
    • Hold local governments accountable for the actions of local law enforcement.
  • End mass incarceration.
    • End cash bail, predatory fines, and fees on the poor. Instead of criminalizing the poor to raise state and local revenues, raise taxes on the corporations and the wealthy and direct federal resources to state and local governments for unarmed, public health, mental health, EMT and social services emergency responders.
    • Stop locking people up for non-violent crimes and misdemeanors by replacing prison sentencing with community service and substance abuse treatment.
  • Redirect resources from the military, policing and incarceration budgets towards the real security of our communities, including quality public schools, universal health care and decent jobs with living wages.
  • Remove immigration from the Department of Homeland Security.
    • Repeal mandatory detention laws, end all remaining detention quotas, close all private detention centers and shadow detention centers, close child detention centers and implement alternatives to detentions to draw down the 52,000 people currently held in detention.
    • Implement an immediate moratorium on deportations and roll back the expanded deportation provisions of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

For more information on policing and militarism in your state, see here.