If you count county and municipal jails, at the end of 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, there were 2,226,800 U.S. citizens incarcerated. Another 4,814,200 are on parole or on some sort of release program. At 7 million, give or take, under supervision, we have about 2.3 percent of the total population requiring non-productive, expensive care.
There were in 2008, about 1.2 million federal, state and local police. However, prison personnel don’t seem to be included in the total. Surely, in 2014, there are more in law enforcement that there were six years ago.
Forget the paroled and supervised for a moment, even though they require supervision and represent a significant expense. For the incarcerated, I did a back-of-napkin calculation and determined that at a 3% growth rate, we would have 3.4 million incarcerated in 15 years. At 4 percent, the number swells to more than 4 million. If you calculate forward the released parolees, you get an overwhelming number of people under supervision at horrendous yearly tax outlays.
The success of the prisons (some municipalities depend on prisons as employers, and it’s said that the United States, with 5 percent of the world’s population, houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners) seems to be a failure of education specifically and society generally. A huge number of people imprisoned are minorities.
If you include the law-enforcement agencies who deal with the apprehension and warehousing of criminals, the non-productive number of people involved in the overall enterprise becomes downright scary. (“Non-productive” simply means that guards and those in law enforcement do not produce any tangible good for society—they don’t produce goods or services, unless you count watching people through bars as being productive.)