« New Human Rights for Kids report documents those imprisoned for crimes committed as children | Main | Man convicted of murdering BLM marcher, whom Texas Gov has pledged to pardon, sentenced by judge to 25 years in prison »

May 10, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative details "Punishment Beyond Prisons 2023: Incarceration and supervision by state"

Prison Policy Initiative has produced this intricate new report detailing how many folks are under correctional control in every state and throughout the entire US.  The report is titled "Punishment Beyond Prisons 2023: Incarceration and supervision by state," and here is how it gets started:

The U.S. has a staggering 1.9 million people behind bars, but even this number doesn’t capture the true reach of the criminal legal system.  It’s more accurate to look at the 5.5 million people under all of the nation’s mass punishment systems, which include not only incarceration but also probation and parole.

Altogether, an estimated 3.7 million adults are under community supervision (sometimes called community corrections) — nearly twice the number of people who are incarcerated in jails and prisons combined.  The vast majority of people under supervision are on probation (2.9 million people), and over 800,000 people are on parole.  Yet despite the massive number of people under supervision, parole and probation do not receive nearly as much attention as incarceration.  Policymakers and the public must understand how deeply linked these systems are to mass incarceration to ensure that these “alternatives” to incarceration aren’t simply expanding it.

We’ve designed this report specifically to allow state policymakers and residents to assess the scale and scope of their entire correctional systems.  Our findings raise the question of whether community supervision systems are working as intended or whether they simply funnel people into prisons and jails — or are even replicating prison conditions in the community.  The report encourages policymakers and advocates to consider how many people under correctional control don’t need to be locked up or monitored at all, and whether high-need individuals are receiving necessary services or only sanctions.

In this update to our 2018 report, we compile data for all 50 states and D.C. on federal and state prisons, local jails, jails in Indian Country, probation, and parole.  We also include data on punishment systems that are adjacent to the criminal legal system: youth confinement and involuntary commitment.  Because these systems often mirror and even work in tandem with the criminal legal system, we include them in this broader view of mass punishment. We make the data accessible in one nationwide chart, 100+ state-specific pie charts and a data appendix, and discuss how the scale and harms of these systems can be minimized.

May 10, 2023 at 03:00 PM | Permalink


Attention to the alleged problems of the system = 100%.

Attention to the behavior of the criminal that brings him into the system = 0%.

Utterly slanted and biased, but what else is new with this bunch?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 10, 2023 5:02:34 PM


Do you advocate for the lion's share of the "collective criminal justice dollar" (i.e., in ALL jurisdictions across the country) be spent on incapacitation, punishment,deterrence, or rather have that dollar spent on rehabilitation and prevention efforts? Where is that dollar best spent? Where do we get the biggest bang for the buck?

Posted by: SG | May 10, 2023 9:15:32 PM

SG --

Depends of what WORKS to advance the basic goals of sentencing -- just punishment, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation.

Rehab and prevention obviously do nothing to advance the goal of just punishment, which comes first in my mind. They also do nothing to disable the criminal from crime, and hence do not advance the goal of incapacitation. They indirectly advance deterrence or something like deterrence, yes. And I'm all for rehab IF IT WORKS, which statistics tell us that it mostly doesn't.

I also question your tacit premise, which is that our success against crime depends mostly on any of the government actions you note. That is not the case. Fighting crime comes first and foremost from the individual's conscience and respect for the rights and feelings of others. That has to be inculcated in a person long before he gets to where you and I ran into him.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 10, 2023 11:09:21 PM


You correctly state, and I am in total agreement that "the individual's conscience and respect for the rights and feelings of others...(must be) inculcated in a person long before he gets to where you and I ran into him". Very well stated.

While we are in agreement on this point, we differ when identifying an effective approach to "re-educate" and "inculcate anew" those who have either lost their moral compass, or never had one in the first place.

Taking a 2x4 and smacking it upside the head of a hardened criminal/drug addict, euphemistically speaking (via your 'just punishment' model), sadly does not seem to be working (as witnesssed by exceedingly high recidivsm rates).

While the example of harsh punishments may help to deter those on the cusp of criminality, it does little if anything for those already "in the life", which is the majority of those in prison.

I personally can attest to the fact that re-education and rehabilitation is very hard work for the individual, and is not something that can be "imposed upon" that person.
The truth is, a metamorphisis of the soul is highly unlikely to occur while incarcerated.

However, it is possible for the individual's internal moral compass to be 're-built' and then sustained. The metamorphisis can begin once motivated, and if in a supportive environment.

So, if your "just punishment" approach (long prison sentences) does NOT effect this much needed internal change and rebuilding of an essential moral foundation, what then is the purpose?

Posted by: SG | May 11, 2023 7:32:22 AM

SG --

"So, if your "just punishment" approach (long prison sentences) does NOT effect this much needed internal change and rebuilding of an essential moral foundation, what then is the purpose?"

Just punishment, like just reward, is a good onto itself and does not need extrinsic grounding.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 11, 2023 11:18:18 AM

Am I understanding you correctly? You are saying, essentially, “punishment for punishment’s sake’? Or do you mean something else? I’m a bit confused with your response, Would you mind expounding just a bit more on what you mean?

Posted by: SG | May 11, 2023 2:51:13 PM

This issue will never be answered because the real question is never asked.

Prisons were always tough places. Much tougher in say, the 1940’s, than now. In light of that, it’s impossible that “mass incarceration” is the problem because there would have been more incarceration then.

It’s only a criminal justice issue tangentially. A person’s path in life has generally been decided even before seeing the judge that first time.

It’s a societal problem, as its fabric becomes more and more torn by the day. Having mom, dad, siblings, grandma, uncles, and aunts has been replaced by bastardy and single moms of four kids. In the rare case that did happen, the church would step in and provide financial and emotional support. Another family might involve your son in their activities and the dad become a male role model for your son. You knew everyone in the community and if you got out of hand, the babcia were all out on their stoops acting as the security cameras ready to tell mom and dad what you were up to.

As Edmund Burke said, family, church, and community were the “little platoons” that orient mankind towards virtues such as “temperance and fortitude.”

All of that has been replaced. We don’t know our neighbors, churchgoers are seen as just wackos, and we treat single moms as heroes and dad as doing well as long as he makes those CP payments.

The state has become “daddy.”

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 11, 2023 4:13:21 PM

SG --

People should get what their behavior earns them. If it earns them punishment, then it's justice per se when they get it (this is one of the things responsible parents teach their kids). If it earns them rewards, then it's justice per se that they get those, too (as responsible parents should also teach).

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 11, 2023 4:16:51 PM

SG stated,

“However, it is possible for the individual's internal moral compass to be 're-built' and then sustained. The metamorphisis can begin once motivated, and if in a supportive environment.”

Not impossible, just nearly so. They almost all have lived an entire life of dysfunction. It’s incredibly difficult to change a lifelong outlook.

In Cinderella Man (great movie and true story if you haven’t seen it), there is a scene where after Russell Crowe becomes the world champion, he goes to the welfare office and pays back every penny of welfare he ever took (it was during the depression).

I showed the movie to my class when I taught in prison and they were utterly flabbergasted as to why Crowe’s character would do that. Even when I explained, they didn’t “get” it.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 11, 2023 4:27:05 PM


The misconeption in your approach to teaching is that this sub-set of people learn in the same fashion that you and I learn. The majority of people learn (i.e., motivated or deterred by seeing what happens to others). However, not these folks.

"Behavioral modification" (as the medical professionals like to call it), that is, the modifying or altering of anti-social behaviors is a participatory sport. The subject must actively participate in the process, and must do so consistently and for a relatively long period of time (three to five years for some, before the change is internalized and sustained).

Thihk of it this way:
One does not learn to play tennis or baseball or any other sport by watching others. You learn by 'doing'. You do not get into good physical shape by going to the gym and watching others lift weights, exercise, etc. One's 'moral shape', likewise, is developed by exercising one's morals by "good acts", "right living", being challenged to make good decisions for themselves and others, etc.

I would welcome your thoughts on this.

Showing your folks that movie was done with obvious good intention because you are a good person and desire to 'course correct' others. Some of those folks may get the concept, but it will not be internalized and sustained in a prison setting, or in their neighborhood once released.

Posted by: SG | May 11, 2023 5:25:09 PM


Your response as to "getting just reward" and/or "getting just punishment" is somewhat vague, from my perspective. I try not to view your response as an attempt to avoid when challenged on your core beliefs in this area. If your time does not allow for a more expansive answer, I would understand.

And perhaps I miss your point.

To review: if "just punishments" do not result in any change or positive outcomes in the wrongdoer, what then its purpose? Are you saying that (1) the wrongdoer suffers the punishment, but we don't expect any positive change resulting from the punishment and we really don't care if they change or not; they got what they deserve and that's that, and/or (2) the punisher and others (the larger society) just "feel better" by meting out harsh punishments ("we have exacted our pound of flesh..ahhhh..it feels so good"), and that in itself is the ultimate goal, and/or (3) the punisher/society does not expect the wrongdoer to actually change as a result of being subjected to these well-deserved 'just punishments, although the punisher remains ever hopeful that change may actually occur at some point for at least some of them? Are any one of these accurate or even close to accurate?

I am hoping to hear a more expansive response from you, and not a one-liner. Fair?

I look forward to your response.

Posted by: SG | May 11, 2023 6:01:34 PM

It wasn’t an “approach” or teaching method. It was merely an example of how foreign the concepts of responsibility and self-reliance are to these guys.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 11, 2023 10:57:36 PM


The problem with the “behavior modification” approach is that the same guys go back to the same neighborhoods and same friends. A few hours a week in therapy is not often going to modify the negative behaviors their friends reinforce.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 11, 2023 11:01:00 PM

Bill and Tarls - the harms caused by prison should be minimized whenever possible. It seems to me that being put in an environment where you are told when and how to do every little thing and then being expected to behave better when they get out (for people whose behavior skills are questionable in the first place) is a recipe for failure. Brett Miler

Posted by: Brett Miler | May 12, 2023 9:04:50 AM

Tarls writes: "A few hours a week in therapy is not often going to modify the negative behaviors their friends reinforce".

And neither will decades in a prison. (parenthetically, I have NEVER stated nor do I believe that "a few hours a week in therapy" would change behavior or much of anything at all).

As you know, long periods in prison does not result in "behavior modification" either.
Incarceration is a failed approach, if our ultimate goal is to stop individuals from continuing to commit crimes (see recidivism rates). The criminal is surrounded in their "prison neighborhood" by others just like them, and they each continually reinforce each others' "negative behaviors" and dysfunctional thinking.

So if an individual returns to the community from whence they came (and after enormous sums of taxpayer $'s have been expended), and the subject is pretty much the same, why keep doing it?

It's as if we take a car that's not working to the auto mechanic, and it is then returned in the same condition along with a bill for $2500....wouldn't we look for another mechanic??

Posted by: SG | May 12, 2023 9:21:22 PM


As I stated above, you are asking the wrong question.

There is very little in way of a solution by the time they face incarceration. At that point, it is about keeping the public safe, which prison does better than going soft on crime.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 12, 2023 10:22:48 PM

SG --

The purpose of the criminal justice system is to do justice. One component of justice is, as you say, forward-looking, i.e., how do we want the defendant to behave from here on in. But another and at least equally important component of justice is to give the defendant what his past behavior has earned.

In the case of, say, Timothy McVeigh, I don't care what his future behavior is because I don't want there to be any future behavior. His past behavior -- namely, blowing up 162 human beings, 19 of them under the age of six -- earned him an exit from this life.

That's an extreme case, sure, but it illustrates the point that, in doing justice, you don't just accept the defendant's crime as a given, walk past it, and focus solely on what should happen next. The first thing you do is give him what he's earned.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 13, 2023 7:31:33 AM


A very well thought out response. However, I am still at a loss as to what purpose this "punishment earned" model? Pragmatically, what does it get us? Is it simply the emotional and psychological satisfaction that we, as a society get? We "got him back" and "we evened the score"?

The Timothy McVeigh example is an extreme, and an outlier. As you well know, the vast, vast majority of inmates are there as a result of drug addiction behaviors.

The uncontrollable violent offender is a totally different subject matter, and that sub-set deserves separate, different conversation.

Posted by: SG | May 14, 2023 8:08:04 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB