For most people, it is difficult to get an accurate view of crime in the U.S. and the number of people charged with criminal offenses. While some statistics seem confusing others can shed some light on the situation.
A few data points may even reveal some surprising facts about the criminal justice system.
The impact of drug crimes on the system
According to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S. locks up more people per capita than any other country, and many of the people incarcerated are there due to drug crimes. About 500,000 people spend some time in jail each year due to drug use. This amounts to about 20% of people in prisons at any given time.
Police make about 1 million arrests each year for drug crimes. These drug arrests have serious consequences on the ability of an individual to find a job, earn a good wage, find appropriate housing and maintain a job. Residents of over-policed communities are likely to bear the brunt of many drug convictions.
The impact of low-level offenses
Many people also suffer consequences such as incarceration for low-level offenses and technical violations of parole. Some evidence shows that as many as one-third of some jail populations come from probation, parole violations or a detainer situation. These encounters with state and federal authorities often harm a person’s life.
People also face consequences from misdemeanors such as jaywalking or other seemingly benign events. As many as 13 million people every year face misdemeanor charges, amounting to an estimated 25% of the jail population at a given moment. Statistics on crime and incarceration in the U.S. show an active system grappling with difficult challenges.