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Incarceration in the United States of America is one of the main forms of punishment, rehabilitation, or both for the commission of felony and other offenses. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. At year-end 2009, it was 743 adults incarcerated per 100,000 population.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2011 – about 0.94% of adults in the U.S. resident population. Additionally, 4,814,200 adults at year-end 2011 were on probation or on parole. In total, 6,977,700 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2011 – about 2.9% of adults in the U.S. resident population. A 2014 report published by the National Research Council asserts that the prison population of the United States "is by far the largest in the world. Just under one-quarter of the world's prisoners are held in American prisons."
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In 1841, Dorothea Dix discovered that prison conditions were, in her opinion, inhumane. Prisoners were chained naked, whipped with rods. Others, criminally insane, were caged, or placed in cellars, or closets. She insisted on changes throughout the rest of her life. While focusing on the insane, her comments also resulted in changes for other inmates.
|USA and territories.|
Adult and juvenile inmates.
|Federal and state prisons||1,518,559|
|Jails in tribal territories||2,135|
|Juvenile facilities (2007)||86,927|
In 2008 approximately one in every 31 adults (7.3 million) in the United States was behind bars, or being monitored (probation and parole). In 2008 the breakdown for adults under correctional control was as follows: one out of 18 men, one in 89 women, one in 11 African-Americans (9.2 percent), one in 27 Latinos (3.7 percent), and one in 45 Caucasians (2.2 percent). Crime rates have decreased by about 25 percent from 1988 to 2008. In recent decades the U.S. has experienced a surge in its prison population, quadrupling since 1980, partially as a result of mandatory sentencing that came about during the "war on drugs." Violent crime and property crime have declined since the early 1990s.
In addition, there were 86,927 held in juvenile facilities as of the 2007 Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement (CJRP), conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
America's foster youth represent a large number of the incarcerated. In California, 70% of prisoners spent time in foster care system.
As of 2009, the three states with the lowest ratios of imprisoned people per 100,000 population are Maine (150 per 100,000), Minnesota (189 per 100,000), and New Hampshire (206 per 100,000). The three states with the highest ratio are Louisiana (881 per 100,000), Mississippi (702 per 100,000) and Oklahoma (657 per 100,000).
In 2009, 92.9% of prisoners (not jail inmates) were male.
A 2005 report estimated that 27% of federal prison inmates are noncitizens, convicted of crimes while in the country legally or illegally. However, federal prison inmates account for six percent of the total incarcerated population; noncitizen populations in state and local prisons are more difficult to establish. The World Prison Brief puts the total number of foreign prisoners in all federal, state and local facilities at 5.9%.
Many legislatures continually have reduced discretion of judges in both the sentencing process and the determination of when the conditions of a sentence have been satisfied. Determinate sentencing, use of mandatory minimums, and guidelines-based sentencing continue to remove the human element from sentencing, such as the prerogative of the judge to consider the mitigating or extenuating circumstances of a crime to determine the appropriate length of the incarceration. As the consequence of "three strikes laws," the increase in the duration of incarceration in the last decade was most pronounced in the case of life prison sentences, which increased by 83% between 1992 and 2003 while violent crimes fell in the same period.
In 2008, there were 198.2 violent crimes reported per 100,000 persons.
In 2008, there were over 14 million people arrested for violent and non-violent crime.
7.9% of sentenced prisoners in federal prisons on September 30, 2009 were in for violent crimes. 52.4% of sentenced prisoners in state prisons at year end 2008 were in for violent crimes. 21.6% of convicted inmates in jails in 2002 (latest available data by type of offense) were in for violent crimes. Among unconvicted inmates in jails in 2002, 34% had a violent offense as the most serious charge. 41% percent of convicted and unconvicted jail inmates in 2002 had a current or prior violent offense; 46% were nonviolent recidivists. 
From 2000 to 2008, the state prison population increased by 159,200 prisoners, and violent offenders accounted for 60% of this increase. The number of drug offenders in state prisons declined by 12,400 over this period. Furthermore, while the number of sentenced violent offenders in state prison increased from 2000 through 2008, the expected length of stays for these offenders declined slightly during this period.
Violent crime was not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States from 1980 to 2003. Violent crime rates had been relatively constant or declining over those decades. The prison population was increased primarily by public policy changes causing more prison sentences and lengthening time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, "three strikes" laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release. 49 percent of sentenced state inmates were held for violent offenses. Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national "war on drugs." The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.  In 2011, 55.6% of the 1,131,210 sentenced prisoners in state prisons were being held for violent crimes (this number excludes the 200,966 prisoners being held due parole violations, of which 39.6% were re-incarcerated for a subsequent violent crime). Also in 2011, 3.7% of the state prison population consisted of prisoners whose highest conviction was for drug possession (again excluding those incarcerated for parole violations of which 6.0% were re-incarcerated for a subsequent act of drug possession).
A 2002 study survey showed that among nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and 51.8% were back in prison. However, the study found no evidence that spending more time in prison raises the recidivism rate, and found that those serving the longest time, 61 months or more, had a slightly lower re-arrest rate (54.2%) than every other category of prisoners. This is most likely explained by the older average age of those released with the longest sentences, and the study shows a strong negative correlation between recidivism and age upon release.
The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world (743 per 100,000 population), Russia has the second highest rate (577 per 100,000), followed by Rwanda (561 per 100,000). As of year-end 2009 the USA rate was 743 adults incarcerated in prisons and jails per 100,000 population. At year-end 2007 the United States had less than 5% of the world's population and 23.4% of the world's prison and jail population (adult inmates).
By comparison the incarceration rate in England and Wales in October 2011 was 155 people imprisoned per 100,000 residents; the rate for Norway in May 2010 was 71 inmates per 100,000; Netherlands in April 2010 was 94 per 100,000; Australia in June 2010 was 133 per 100,000; and New Zealand in October 2010 was 203 per 100,000.
A 2008 New York Times article said that "it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher."
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) non-Hispanic blacks accounted for 39.4% of the total prison and jail population in 2009 (841,000 black males and 64,800 black females out of a total of 2,096,300 males and 201,200 females). According to the 2010 census of the US Census Bureau blacks (including Hispanic blacks) comprised 13.6% of the US population.
Hispanics (of all races) were 20.6% of the total jail and prison population in 2009. Hispanics comprised 16.3% of the US population according to the 2010 US census. The Northeast has the highest incarceration rates of Hispanics in the nation. Connecticut has the highest Hispanic-to-White incarceration ratio with 6.6 Hispanic males for every white male. The National Average Hispanic-to-White incarceration ratio is 1.8. Other states with high Hispanic-to-White incarcerations include Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.
As the Hispanic community is not monolithic, variations are seen in incarceration rates. Among the Hispanic community, Puerto Ricans have the highest incarceration rate. Located primarily in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, they are up to six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, which may explain the higher incarceration rates for Hispanics overall in the Northeast region. Illegal immigrants, usually Mexican nationals, also make up a substantial number of Hispanics incarcerated.
In 2010 black non-Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender. White males were incarcerated at the rate of 678 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Hispanic males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,755 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. (For female rates see the table below.) Asian Americans, however, have lower incarceration rates than any other racial group, including whites.
Black majority cities have similar crime statistics for blacks as do cities where majority of population is white. For example, white-majority San Diego has a slightly lower crime rate for blacks than does Atlanta, a city which has black majority in population and city government.
In 2013, by age 18, 30% of black males, 26% of Hispanic males, and 22% of white males have been arrested. By age 23, 49% of black males, 44% of Hispanic males, and 38% of white males have been arrested.
As of December 31, 2009 the female prison population of federal and state prisons in the United States was 113,462. Within the US, the rate of female incarceration increased fivefold in a two decade span ending in 2001; the increase occurred because of increased prosecutions and convictions of offenses related to recreational drugs, increases in the severities of offenses, and a lack of community sanctions and treatment for women who violate laws. In the United States, authorities began housing women in correctional facilities separate from men in the 1870s.
Through the juvenile courts and the adult criminal justice system, the United States incarcerates more of its youth than any other country in the world, a reflection of the larger trends in incarceration practices in the United States. This has been a source of controversy for a number of reasons, including the overcrowding and violence in youth detention facilities, the prosecution of youths as adults and the long term consequences of incarceration on the individual's chances for success in adulthood. In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized the United States for about ten judicial abuses, including the mistreatment of juvenile inmates.
The percentage of prisoners in federal and state prisons aged 55 and older increased by 33% from 2000 to 2005 while the prison population grew by 8%. The Southern Legislative Conference found that in 16 southern states the elderly prisoner population increased on average by 145% between 1997 and 2007. The growth in the elderly population brought along higher health care costs, most notably seen in the 10% average increase in state prison budgets from 2005 to 2006.
The SLC expects the percentage of elderly prisoners relative to the overall prison population to continue to rise. Ronald Aday, a professor of aging studies at Middle Tennessee State University and author of Aging Prisoners: Crisis in American Corrections, concurs. One out of six prisoners in California is serving a life sentence. Aday predicts that by 2020 16% percent of those serving life sentences will be elderly.
State governments pay all of their inmates' housing costs which significantly increase as prisoners age. Inmates are unable to apply for Medicare and Medicaid. Most Departments of Correction report spending more than 10 percent of the annual budget on elderly care.
The American Civil Liberties Union published a report in 2012 which asserts that the elderly prison population has climbed 1300% since the 1980s, with 125,000 inmates aged 55 or older now incarcerated.
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In various, but not all, states' department of corrections, inmates reside in different facilities that vary by security level, especially in security measures, administration of inmates, type of housing, and weapons and tactics used by corrections officers. The federal government's Bureau of Prisons uses a numbered scale from one to five to represent the security level. Level five is the most secure, while level one is the least. State prison systems operate similar systems. California, for example, classifies its facilities from Reception Center through Levels I to V (minimum to maximum security) to specialized high security units (all considered Level V) including Security Housing Unit (SHU)—California's version of supermax—and related units. As a general rule, county jails, detention centers, and reception centers, where new commitments are first held while either awaiting trial or before being transferred to "mainline" institutions to serve out their sentences, operate at a relatively high level of security, usually close security or higher.
Supermax prison facilities provide the highest level of prison security. These units hold those considered the most dangerous inmates, as well as inmates that have been deemed too high-profile or too great a national security risk for a normal prison. These include inmates who have committed assaults, murders, or other serious violations in less secure facilities, and inmates known to be or accused of being prison gang members. Most states have either a supermax section of a prison facility or an entire prison facility designated as a supermax. The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons operates a federal supermax, ADX Florence, located in Florence, Colorado, also known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" and widely considered to be perhaps the most secure prison in the United States. ADX Florence has a standard supermax section where assaultive, violent, and gang-related inmates are kept under normal supermax conditions of 23-hour confinement and abridged amenities. ADX Florence is considered to be of a security level above that of all other prisons in the United States, at least in the "ideological" ultramax part of it, which features permanent, 24-hour solitary confinement with rare human contacts or opportunity to earn better conditions through good behavior.
In a maximum security prison or area, all prisoners have individual cells with sliding doors controlled from a secure remote control station. Prisoners are allowed out of their cells one out of twenty four hours (one hour and 30 minutes for prisoners in California). When out of their cells, prisoners remain in the cell block or an exterior cage. Movement out of the cell block or "pod" is tightly restricted using restraints and escorts by correctional officers.
Under close security, prisoners usually have one- or two-person cells operated from a remote control station. Each cell has its own toilet and sink. Inmates may leave their cells for work assignments or correctional programs and otherwise may be allowed in a common area in the cellblock or an exercise yard. The fences are generally double fences with watchtowers housing armed guards, plus often a third, lethal-current electric fence in the middle.
Prisoners that fall into the medium security group may sleep in dormitories on bunk beds with lockers to store their possessions. They may have communal showers, toilets and sinks. Dormitories are locked at night with one or more correctional officers supervising. There is less supervision over the internal movements of prisoners. The perimeter is generally double fenced and regularly patrolled.
Prisoners in minimum security facilities are considered to pose little physical risk to the public and are mainly non-violent "white collar criminals". Minimum security prisoners live in less-secure dormitories, which are regularly patrolled by correctional officers. As in medium security facilities, they have communal showers, toilets, and sinks. A minimum-security facility generally has a single fence that is watched, but not patrolled, by armed guards. At facilities in very remote and rural areas, there may be no fence at all. Prisoners may often work on community projects, such as roadside litter cleanup with the state department of transportation or wilderness conservation. Many minimum security facilities are small camps located in or near military bases, larger prisons (outside the security perimeter) or other government institutions to provide a convenient supply of convict labor to the institution. Many states allow persons in minimum-security facilities access to the Internet.
Research indicates that inmates who maintain contact with family and friends in the outside world are less likely to be convicted of further crimes and usually have an easier reintegration period back into society. Many institutions encourage friends and families to send letters, especially when they are unable to visit regularly. However, guidelines exist as to what constitutes acceptable mail, and these policies are strictly enforced.
Mail sent to inmates in violation of prison policies can cost inmates "gain time"[clarification needed] and even lead to punishment. Most Department of Corrections websites provide detailed information regarding mail policies. These rules can even vary within a single prison depending on which part of the prison an inmate is housed. For example, death row and maximum security inmates are usually under stricter mail guidelines for security reasons.
There have been several notable challenges to prison corresponding services. The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) stated that effective June 1, 2007, inmates would be prohibited from using pen pal websites, citing concerns that inmates were using them to solicit money and defraud the public. Service providers such as WriteAPrisoner.com, together with the ACLU, plan to challenge the ban in Federal Court. Similar bans on an inmate's rights or a website's right to post such information has been ruled unconstitutional in other courts, citing First Amendment freedoms. Some faith-based initiatives promote the positive effects of correspondence on inmates, and some have made efforts to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society through job placement assistance. Inmates' ability to mail letters to other inmates has been limited by the courts. Inmate correspondence with members of society is typically encouraged because of the positive impact it can have on inmates, albeit under the guidelines of each institution and availability of letter writers.
The non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch raised concerns with prisoner rape and medical care for inmates. In a survey of 1,788 male inmates in Midwestern prisons by Prison Journal, about 21% responded they had been coerced or pressured into sexual activity during their incarceration, and 7% that they had been raped in their current facility.
In August 2003, a Harper's article by Wil S. Hylton estimated that "somewhere between 20 and 40% of American prisoners are, at this very moment, infected with hepatitis C". Prisons may outsource medical care to private companies such as Correctional Medical Services (now Corizon) that, according to Hylton's research, try to minimize the amount of care given to prisoners in order to maximize profits. After the privatization of healthcare in Arizona's prisons, medical spending fell by 30 million dollars and staffing was greatly reduced. Some 50 prisoners died in custody in the first 8 months of 2013, compared to 37 for the preceding two years combined.
The poor quality of food provided to inmates has become an issue, as over the last decade corrections officials looking to cut costs have been outsourcing food services to private, for profit corporations such as Aramark, A’Viands Food & Services Management, and ABL Management. A prison riot in Kentucky has been blamed on the low quality of food Aramark provided to inmates.
Also identified as an issue within the prison system is gang violence, because many gang members retain their gang identity and affiliations when imprisoned. Segregation of identified gang members from the general population of inmates, with different gangs being housed in separate units often results in the imprisonment of these gang members with their friends and criminal cohorts. Some feel this has the effect of turning prisons into "institutions of higher criminal learning."
Many prisons in the United States are overcrowded. For example, California's 33 prisons have a total capacity of 100,000, but they hold 170,000 inmates. Many prisons in California and around the country are forced to turn old gymnasiums and classrooms into huge bunkhouses for inmates. They do this by placing hundreds of bunk beds next to one another, in these gyms, without any type of barriers to keep inmates separated. In California, the inadequate security engendered by this situation, coupled with insufficient staffing levels, have led to increased violence and a prison health system that causes one death a week. This situation has led the courts to order California to release 27% of the current prison population, citing the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The three-judge court considering requests by the Plata v. Schwarzenegger and Coleman v. Schwarzenegger courts found California's prisons have become criminogenic as a result of prison overcrowding.
According to a Supreme Court ruling issued on May 23, 2011, California — which has the highest overcrowding rate of any prison system in the country — must alleviate overcrowding in the state's prisons, reducing the prisoner population by 30,000 over the next two years.
Solitary confinement is widely used in US prisons, yet it is underreported by most states, while some don't report it at all. Isolation of prisoners has been condemned by the UN in 2011 as a form of torture. At over 80,000 at any given time, the US has more prisoners confined in isolation than any other country in the world. In Louisiana, with 843 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, there have been prisoners, such as the Angola Three, held for as long as forty years in isolation.
In 2011, some 885 people died while being held in local jails (not in prisons after being convicted of a crime and sentenced) throughout the United States.
As of September 2013, condoms for prisoners are only available in the US state of Vermont (on September 17, 2013, the California Senate approved a bill for condom distribution inside the state's prisons, but the bill was not yet law at the time of approval).
In recent years, there has been much debate over the privatization of prisons. Both publicly provided and publicly financed prisons operate under the titular supervision of the various Departments of Corrections that exist at the state and the Bureau of Prisons at the federal level.
A study was performed using three comparable Louisiana medium security prisons, two of which were privately run by different corporations and the third was publicly run. The authors report the data from this study suggests the privately run prisons operated more cost effectively without sacrificing the safety of inmates and staff. They conclude the privately run prisons had a lower cost per inmate, fewer critical incidents, safer environment for employees and inmates, and a higher proportional rate of inmates who complete basic education, literacy, and vocational training courses. However, the publicly run prison outperformed the privately run prisons in areas such as fewer escape attempts, controlling substance abuse through testing, offered a wider range of educational and vocational courses, and provided a broader range of treatment, recreation, social services, and rehabilitative services.
The results of this study show why this issue is complicated without an obvious solution. The privately run prisons were found to be a cheaper alternative without diminishing the level of safety and generating a higher completion rate of the offered educational/vocational programs. But, the publicly run prison offered more services that suggest a larger commitment beyond guarding and housing inmates.
In neighboring Mississippi, a 2013 Bloomberg report states that assault rates in private facilities were three times higher on average than in their public counterparts. In 2012, the for-profit Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility was the most violent prison in the state, and had 27 assaults per 100 offenders. A May 2012 riot in the CCA-run Adams County Correctional Facility, also in Mississippi, left one corrections officer dead and dozens injured. Similar riots have occurred in privatized facilities in Idaho, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Florida and California.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, numerous other studies indicate that private jails are actually filthier, more violent, less accountable, and could be more costly than their public counterparts. They claim that the for-profit prison industry is "a major contributor to bloated state budgets and mass incarceration – not a part of any viable solution to these urgent problems." In fact, the primary reason Louisiana is the prison capital of the world is because of the for-profit prison industry. According to The Times-Picayune, "a majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt."
Controversy has surrounded the privatization of prisons with the exposure of the genesis of the landmark Arizona SB 1070 law. This law was written by Arizona State Congressman Russell Pearce and the Corrections Corporation of America at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C.
Companies operating in the private prison business include the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, Inc., Management and Training Corporation, and Community Education Centers. The GEO Group was formerly known as the Wackenhut Corrections division. It includes the former Correctional Services Corporation and Cornell Companies, which were purchased by GEO in 2005 and 2010. Such companies often sign contracts with states obliging them to fill prison beds or reimburse them for those that go unused.
Private companies which provide services to prisons combine in the American Correctional Association, a 501(c)3 which advocates legislation favorable to the industry. Such private companies comprise what has been termed the Prison-industrial complex. An example of this phenomenon would be the Kids for cash scandal, in which two judges in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, were receiving judicial kickbacks for sending youths, convicted of minor crimes, to a privatized, for-profit juvenile facility run by the Mid Atlantic Youth Service Corporation.
It is estimated that 1 in 9 state government employees works in corrections. As the overall U.S. prison population declined in 2010, states are closing prisons. For instance, Virginia has removed 11 prisons since 2009. Like other small towns, Boydton in Virginia has to contend with unemployment woes resulting from the closure of the Mecklenburg Correctional Center.
In California in 2008, it cost the state an average of $47,102 a year to incarcerate an inmate in a state prison. From 2001 to 2009, the average annual cost increased by about $19,500.
Housing the approximately 500,000 people in jail in the USA awaiting trial who cannot afford bail costs $9 billion a year. Most jail inmates are petty, nonviolent offenders. Twenty years ago most nonviolent defendants were released on their own recognizance (trusted to show up at trial). Now most are given bail, and most pay a bail bondsman to afford it. 62% of local jail inmates are awaiting trial.
To ease jail overcrowding over 10 counties every year consider building new jails. As an example Lubbock County, Texas has decided to build a $110 million megajail to ease jail overcrowding. Jail costs an average of $60 a day nationally. In Broward County, Florida supervised pretrial release costs about $7 a day per person while jail costs $115 a day. The jail system costs a quarter of every county tax dollar in Broward County, and is the single largest expense to the county taxpayer.
Bondsmen have lobbied to cut back local pretrial programs from Texas to California, pushed for legislation in four states limiting pretrial's resources, and lobbied Congress so that they won't have to pay the bond if the defendant commits a new crime. Behind them, the bondsmen have powerful special interest group and millions of dollars. Pretrial release agencies have a smattering of public employees and the remnants of their once-thriving programs.
The National Association of State Budget Officers reports: "In fiscal 2009, corrections spending represented 3.4 percent of total state spending and 7.2 percent of general fund spending." They also report: "Some states exclude certain items when reporting corrections expenditures. Twenty-one states wholly or partially excluded juvenile delinquency counseling from their corrections figures and fifteen states wholly or partially excluded spending on juvenile institutions. Seventeen states wholly or partially excluded spending on drug abuse rehabilitation centers and forty-one states wholly or partially excluded spending on institutions for the criminally insane. Twenty-two states wholly or partially excluded aid to local governments for jails. For details, see Table 36."
High rates of incarceration may be due to sentence length, which is further driven by many other factors. Shorter sentences may even diminish the criminal culture by possibly reducing re-arrest rates for first-time convicts. The U.S. Congress has ordered federal judges to make imprisonment decisions "recognizing that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation."
Critics have lambasted the United States for incarcerating a large number of non-violent and victimless offenders; half of all persons incarcerated under state jurisdiction are for non-violent offenses, and 20% are incarcerated for drug offenses (in state prisons, federal prison percentages are higher). "Human Rights Watch believes the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States wreaks havoc on individuals, families and communities, and saps the strength of the nation as a whole." The population of inmates housed in prisons and jails in the United States exceeds 2 million, with the per capita incarceration population higher than that officially reported by any other country. Criminal justice policy in the United States has also been criticized for a number of other reasons. Critics such as Angela Davis have argued that prisons in the U.S. have "become venues of profit as well as punishment;" as mass incarceration has increased, the prison system has become more about economic factors than criminality. In the 2014 book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, journalist Matt Taibbi argues that the expanding disparity of wealth and the increasing criminalization of those in poverty have culminated in the U.S. having the largest prison population "in the history of human civilization."
Reporting at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (August 3, 2008), Becky Pettit, associate professor of sociology from the University of Washington and Bryan Sykes, a UW post-doctoral researcher, revealed that the mammoth increase in the United States's prison population since the 1970s is having profound demographic consequences that affect 1 in 50 Americans. Drawing data from a variety of sources that looked at prison and general populations, the researchers found that the boom in prison population is hiding lowered rates of fertility and increased rates of involuntary migration to rural areas and morbidity that is marked by a greater exposure to and risk of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV or AIDS.
As of December 2012, two state prison systems segregated prisoners based on their HIV status. On December 21, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson ruled in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of several inmates that Alabama's practice in doing so violated federal disabilities law. He noted the state's "outdated and unsupported assumptions about HIV and the prison system's ability to deal with HIV-positive prisoners." The other state with a similar segregation policy was South Carolina.
On 12 August 2013, at the American Bar Association's House of Delegates meeting, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the "Smart on Crime" program, which is "a sweeping initiative by the Justice Department that in effect renounces several decades of tough-on-crime anti-drug legislation and policies." Holder said the program "will encourage U.S. attorneys to charge defendants only with crimes "for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins…" Running through Holder's statements, the increasing economic burden of over-incarceration was stressed. As of August 2013[update], the Smart on Crime program is not a legislative initiative but an effort "limited to the DOJ's policy parameters."
Imprisonment by the state judicial systems has steadily diminished since 2006 to 2012, from 689,536 annually to 553,843 annually.
Prison advocacy groups:
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