Incarceration in the United States is geographically distinctive, historically unprecedented, and racially disproportionate. It is geographically distinctive because the United States incarcerates both more people and a larger percentage of its population than any other country in the world—by far. It has only 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, and just under seven million people, or one in thirty-five, in the United States were incarcerated, on parole, or on probation in 2012 (more than the entire population of Chicago and Los Angeles combined). It is historically unprecedented because the U.S. incarceration rate fluctuated only mildly from the late nineteenth century until the 1970s and then increased 500 percent in thirty years. No modern democracy has ever imprisoned so many. It is racially disproportionate because people of color make up 36 percent of the nation’s population, but 60 percent of those in prison. One in three African American men and one in six Latino men in the United States will spend time in prison during his lifetime (Hartney 2006; Mauer 2006; Public Safety Performance Project 2008; Wacquant 2009; Hames-García 2011a; Tonry 2011; Sentencing Project 2014).

This essay may be found on page 96 of the printed volume.

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