Land of the Free
1. There are more black men in the grip of the American criminal-justice system today than there were in slavery in 1850. (I have also read that both in absolute numbers and per capita, the US has more black people in its jails than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.)
2. There are more people under "correctional supervision" in America (more than 6 million) than there were in the Russian gulag under Stalin, at its height. (I have read elsewhere, in several academic sources, that 25% of the world's prisoners are in American jails--this in a country that has less than 5% of the world's population. I also read that 1 out of every 31 Americans is caught up in the criminal justice system in one form or another.)
3. More than 50,000 men are currently in solitary confinement in the US.
4. More than 70,000 American prisoners are raped every year.
5. In 1980, 220 people were incarcerated for every 100,000 Americans; in 2010, the figure had risen to 731 (more than tripled). "No other country even approaches that," writes Gopnik.
6. In the last 20 years, the money states spend on prisons in the US has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education.
7. A huge percentage of American prisoners are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the developed world (e.g., marijuana use).
Gopnik concludes: "Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today...incarceration...acts as a hidden foundation for the country."