Incarceration FAQ – RIKERS – A Documentary Film
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Incarceration FAQ

The United States locks up more people than any other country in world. It has 5 percent of the world’s population but more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. “If you want to understand America’s incarceration crisis, RIKERS is a good place to start,” says Bill Moyers. Below are some key facts about Rikers Island, as well as incarceration in your state and in the United States overall.

What is the difference between a prison and a jail?

As you read, it is useful to understand the distinction between a jail – like Rikers Island – and a prison. A jail is a county or city facility used for housing pretrial defendants or those unable to make bail; it is typically a short-term facility. Prisons are run by the state or federal government and usually incarcerate those with sentences of more than a year, although parameters may vary from state to state. The American criminal justice system has 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers and prisons in the US territories, according to Prison Policy Initiative. New York City’s Rikers Island is the second largest jail facility in the country, following Los Angeles County Jail.

Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Policy Initiative

How many people are incarcerated in the US?

There are over 2.2 million people in state and federal prisons, as well as local jails, making the United States the world’s leader in incarceration. The US locks up 698 people per 100,000, compared to 106 per 100,000 in neighboring Canada. America’s incarceration rate increased 500% over the last 40 years, according to The Sentencing Project. About eleven million people cycle through American jails each year, according to Prison Policy Initiative.

About 60% of people held in local jails have not been convicted of a crime but are detained awaiting court action on a current charge, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In New York City, in 2015, there were over 67,000 annual admissions to jails, with an average daily inmate population of about 10,240 individuals, according to the NYC Department of Correction. Seventy-nine percent of detainees in NYC jails have not been convicted of a crime. They are being held awaiting trial, sentencing or dismissal.

Sources: World Prison Brief, The Sentencing ProjectBureau of Justice Statistics, New York City Department of Correction

If my state were a country where would it rank?

Nearly every state in the US is more likely to incarcerate its residents than almost every other nation on the planet. Thirty-two states, and the District of Columbia, have incarceration rates higher than that of Turkmenistan, which is the nation with the second highest incarceration rate, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. If New York were a country, if would have the 52nd highest incarceration rate in the world, virtually on par with Rwanda. Click through to this interactive chart, to see where your state would land if it were a country.

Source: Prison Policy Initiative

How many people are incarcerated in my state? What does it cost?

Not surprisingly, as incarceration rates have gone up dramatically in recent decades, so has spending on corrections. Overall, total state and local corrections expenditures on incarceration have quadrupled from $17 billion in 1980 to $71 billion in 2013, according to an analysis by the Department of Education.

They found that over the past three decades, state and local government spending on prisons and jails has increased about three times as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education. In New York, the prison population is 52,399, the probation population is 107,730 and the parole population is 45,039.

The state spent $3.13 billion on corrections in 2014. For your state, click through to this interactive map to see information on: the total number of people in prison, racial disparities and how much is spent on corrections each year.

In New York City, it costs an estimated $167,731 to hold a detainee per year, according to the Independent Budget Office. The Vera Institute for Justice estimates it costs $208,500 annually per detainee. Their estimate factors in spending by other city agencies on items such as jail employee benefits, health care and more.

Sources: Department of Correction, The Sentencing ProjectNew York City Independent Budget OfficeVera Institute for Justice

Why are so many Americans behind bars?

Sentencing policies implemented after the war on drugs began in the 1980s led to large increases in the number of people incarcerated, according to The Sentencing Project. The number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses jumped from 41,000 in 1980 to nearly a half million in 2014.

Furthermore, in the 1970s and 1980s, Congress and many state legislatures passed laws that force judges to give “mandatory minimums” for certain crimes, most often drug offenses, which also increased populations. Half of the prison population at the federal level is made up of people incarcerated on a drug conviction.

The Sentencing Project says that most of these people are not high-level players in the drug trade and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense. For many, our money-bail system means the price of freedom is out of reach. In New York City, some 89% of the detainees cannot afford to post bail at arraignment according to New York City’s Criminal Justice Agency 2014 annual report. Bail is set at $1,000 or less in 38% of cases, according to the report.

Source: The Sentencing Project, New York City Criminal Justice Agency

What percentage of people in jail and prison are mentally ill?

People with mental health issues are over-represented in the US criminal justice system. An estimated 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners and 64% of jail inmates have a mental health problem, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But most will not receive treatment while locked up. According to the Urban Institute, about one in three state prisoners and about one in six jail inmates who suffer from mental-health problems report having received mental-health treatment since their admission. About 40% of detainees in New York City are diagnosed with mental illness.

Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Urban InstituteDepartment of Correction

How many people who are incarcerated are held in solitary confinement?

Estimates suggest that about 80,000 to 100,000 people incarcerated in the US are held in some sort of isolated confinement, according to Solitary Watch. The length of time in isolation varies from a few days, to a few months or even years. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture says that anything beyond 15 days in solitary constitutes torture, and has called on the US to end its use of prolonged isolation. At Rikers, reforms implemented by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio have led to a reduction in the use of solitary confinement. About 1.7% of city inmates are now held in solitary, compared with 5% of the population two years ago, according to the Mayor’s office.

Sources: Solitary Watch, The New York City Office of the Mayor, United Nations

What are the demographics of the incarcerated?

Blacks are incarcerated five times more than Whites are, and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to be incarcerated as Whites, according to the Prison Policy Initiative’s analysis of 2010 census data.

At Rikers, the population is about 56% Black, 33% Hispanic and 7.5 % White, according to New York Magazine.

Sources: Prison Policy Initiative, New York Magazine

Are children incarcerated?

On any given day, about 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons in America, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. There are about 188 16- to 17-year-old inmates on Rikers Island, a drop from 337 in 2013. New York is the only state besides North Carolina that prosecutes teenagers as adults once they turn 16. The de Blasio administration has pledged to end solitary confinement for inmates under the age of 22.

Sources: Equal Justice InitiativeDepartment of Correction, NY Daily News

What are the rates of violence inside prisons?

Nineteen percent of male inmates in US prisons say they’ve been physically assaulted by other inmates and 21% say they have been assaulted by prison staff, according to the National Institutes of Health. Between 2% and 5% of male inmates say they have been sexually assaulted behind bars.

Although women are 7% of the total prison population, they represent 22% of all victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization and 33% of all victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

New York City health department officials found 8,557 verified injuries among inmates at Rikers from April 2012 to April 2013, according to a report by the City Health Department obtained by the Associated Press. Some 1,257 of those were allegedly at the hands of correction officers. The remainder were attributed to inmate-on-inmate violence. Officials reported that about 300 of the injuries were classified as serious, meaning they were fractures or other injuries that required help beyond first-aid treatment. The court-appointed monitor overseeing New York City jails, Steve Martin, reported 1,700 cases of documented use of force from March 1 to July 31, 2016, according to CBS News.

Sources: Bureau of Justice StatisticsNational Institutes of HealthCBS News