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Mass Incarceration in the US

With more than 2.3 million people under the control of the American criminal justice system, the United States has more total prisoners than any other country in the world, and we have the world’s highest incarceration rate—one that is 4 to 8 times higher than those in other liberal democracies.

Not only have our prison and jail populations swelled to an unprecedented size over the past 40 years, but the conditions in which people are confined have grown increasingly harsh. Across the nation, prisoners are spending more time in solitary confinement, medical and mental health care are often seriously inadequate, and significant cuts have been made to vocational, recreational, and educational programming, even as prison sentences have become longer and more inflexible.

Moreover, incarceration “is not an equal opportunity punishment.” African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites, and while African Americans and Hispanics make up about 32% of the US population, they constitute 56% of the incarcerated population. Indeed, if African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rate as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.

The Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) aims to be a leader in responding to the crisis of mass incarceration through providing high-quality educational opportunities to incarcerated students in prisons in the state of Illinois.