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Life After Prison: Stats and Facts


The Bureau of Justice Statistics
The Urban Institute
The Sentencing Project
The Center for Law and Social Policy


In the U.S. today, more than six and a half million adults are in the correctional system: currently behind bars, on parole or on probation. Of these:

  • 2.1 million are behind bars (jail or prison)
  • 4 million are on probation
  • 725,527 are on parole


Since 1980, the number of adults in the corrections system quadrupled.

The 6.5 million adults in the system today represent 3.2 percent of the adult population in the U.S.

Between 1925 and 1973, the U.S. incarceration rate remained fairly steady, about 110 per 100,000 Americans (.11%). From 1975 to 2000, incarceration rates rose sharply. Today, incarceration rates seemed to have leveled off-but the United States continues to have the highest rate of incarceration in the world: 1.03% of the adult population.

Life After Prison:

After more than 2 decades of growth, the U.S prison population has stabilized.

2001 saw the lowest rate of growth (1%) since 1972 and the smallest numerical increase since 1979, before the prison boom began.

2.1 million Americans were in state and federal prisons & local jails at the end of 2001.

Since 1998, about 600,000 people have been released from prison each year - about 1,600 a day. Of these, 100,000 are released with no community supervision.

A third are drug offenders. One fourth are violent offenders.

Three quarters have a history of substance abuse.

16 percent are mentally ill.

In 1998, 88 percent of ex-offenders re-entering the community were men; 12 percent women.

The median educational level of people getting out of prison is 11th grade.

The Impact of the Lockup Society on Children:

More than 10 million American children have experienced the incarceration of one or both parents

Currently, 1.5 million children have a parent in prison.

Nearly half of all imprisoned parents are black, about a quarter are white, and another quarter are Hispanic.

Most incarcerated parents are men, but the war on drugs sent greater numbers of women, customarily the primary caretakers of children, to prison.

Each year, some 60,000 women are convicted of felony drug offenses. In 2000, more than one million women were under the supervision of the criminal justice system.


Individuals with felony drug convictions are barred for life from various forms of public assistance, including TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and Food Stamps.

Thirty three states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to either modify or opt out of the Federal bans on public assistance to individuals with felony drug convictions

Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and the "One Strike and You're Out" policy adopted by HUD in 1996, people with criminal records are barred from public and subsidized housing. In some cases, local housing authorities have acted to evict family members sheltering relatives with criminal records.

Thirteen states have a lifetime ban on voting for those convicted of felonies. Thirty-seven states bar those on probation or parole from voting. A total of four million Americans have lost the right to vote, including 1.4 million (one in seven) African American men.

Ex-offenders may be barred from a number of jobs and professions. These restrictions vary from state to state, and include occupations such as home health aide; firefighter; turnpike employee; bartender; school bus driver; crossing guard; corrections worker; cosmetician or barber. Felons may also be barred from working in nursing homes; airport security; banks; and racetracks.

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