A Nation Behind Bars: The Past, Present and Future of Mass Incarceration in the United States

Petersen, Jeremy
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Prior to the 1970’s, the total number of incarcerated Americans had scarcely ever risen above two-hundred thousand. Today there are over two million Americans behind bars. The United States of America incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. In fact, while the U.S. accounts for only five percent of the global population, twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners are held by the United States. This thesis uses several different techniques to study mass incarceration within the United States. First, U.S. prison numbers and incarceration rates are compared to those of other nations from around the world, and the social impacts of various systems of mass incarceration are compared. This paper also examines the history of executive and legislative initiatives which have allowed the U.S. to develop the world’s largest prison network. Next, this thesis examines the interplay between corporate interest and the perpetuation of a system of mass incarceration. Finally, propositions for downsizing America’s prison system are examined.