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U.S. Incarceration Timeline

A primary issue of our contemporary era is mass incarceration. There are currently 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., a 500% increase from a half century ago, at an annual cost of nearly $100 billion. The number of immigrants in detention in the U.S. has quintupled over the past 40 years and the number of immigrant detention centers has grown to over 200 because of new laws requiring mandatory detention of unauthorized immigrants.

As the U.S. legal system has expanded definitions of criminality – from the Black Codes of 1865 through the War on Crime to the War on Drugs to the War on Terror to the criminalization of unauthorized border crossing today – its carceral system has exploded. But the use of captivity as a tool of control and punishment is being called into question by a public growing increasingly uncomfortable with the proliferation of prisons and detention centers, the racial injustices of the incarceration industry, and the harm to communities and families of mass incarceration. It is time to rethink our priorities and embrace new visions.

This timeline offers a brief review of the creation and growth of the incarceration industry in the U.S. It is necessarily truncated and succinct, and we suggest interested viewers should engage with the resources in the final slide for more information.