In Spring 2021,
1.8 million
people were incarcerated in the United States.
People are sent to jails and prisons more than 11 million times each year.
Updated: March 24, 2022 9:51 PM UTC
After decades of growth in incarceration across the United States, the number of people in jail and prison decreased in recent years. However, these national declines mask significant differences in jail and prison trends across counties, states, and regions. Use the map below to explore how your county compares to others along five key incarceration metrics.






Jail Incarceration by Geography
Although jail populations in the nation’s biggest cities began to decline in the early 2000s, jail incarceration has risen dramatically in smaller cities and rural areas. Today, roughly half of all people incarcerated in local jails are in smaller cities and rural communities. The smaller city and rural jail boom has been fueled, in part, by federal- and state-level policies. But mass incarceration is also a local problem, driven by the policies and operations of over 3,000 local jails and justice systems.
Jail population per 100,000 residents ages 15 to 64
Rural countiesSmall/midsize metro areasSuburban countiesUrban countiesU.S. total
Note: Vera's analysis of the urban-rural continuum collapses the six categories defined by the National Center for Health Statistics' (NCHS) Urban-Rural Classification Scheme for Counties into four. A county is labeled “urban” if it is one of the core counties of a metropolitan area with a million or more people and “suburban” if it is within the surrounding metropolitan area. Vera collapses the remaining four categories into two. Vera combined medium and small metropolitan areas into one category—“small and mid-sized metros”—comprising counties in metropolitan areas with populations under a million people. Vera combined micropolitan (an urban area with a population of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000) with noncore areas (all other areas not considered metropolitan or micropolitan) into another category—“rural.” Rural areas are the most numerous, with more than 1,900 counties.


State-level Incarceration Trends
Despite substantial decreases in incarceration in a small number of states over the last two decades―and unprecedented reductions in 2020―the story of U.S. incarceration has been one of remarkable growth. Use the charts below to see which states have seen the biggest increases in overall jail and prison incarceration.
Number of people incarcerated per 100,000 residents ages 15 to 64
State populationU.S. total
West Virginia
Montana
Maine
Kentucky
North Dakota
Nebraska
Arkansas
South Dakota


Women's Incarceration
The number of women held in local jails and prisons has grown exponentially in the last several decades, outpacing rates of growth for men. Today, women in the U.S. are incarcerated at over 10 times the level in 1970, and this increase has been primarily driven by rural counties. Women are particularly vulnerable to the harms of incarceration for several reasons: the majority of women in custody have experienced trauma, have unmet mental and physical health needs, are single mothers, and come from low-income communities of color. Use the charts below to compare women’s incarceration rates in your state to the national average across the rural-urban spectrum.
Number of women in jail per 100,000 residents ages 15 to 64
U.S. totalRural countiesSmall/midsize metro areasSuburban countiesUrban countiesState total
National trend
State trend
Alabama


Racial Disparities in Incarceration
People of color―and Black people in particular―are incarcerated at strikingly higher rates than white people in jails and prisons across the country. These racial disparities reflect a system that treats Black people more harshly than white people at every stage of the criminal legal process. Racial disparities in incarceration cause disproportionate economic, health, and social harms to communities of color. Use the charts below to compare incarceration rates for each racial group.
Incarcerated population vs resident population
Jail population rate per 100K residents ages 15 to 64
U.S. total incarceration rateAsian American/Pacific IslanderBlack/African AmericanLatinxNative AmericanWhite
Asian American/Pacific Islander
-19% since 1990
Black/African American
-6% since 1990
Latinx
-36% since 1990
Native American
+71% since 1990
White
+110% since 1990
Note: Although Latinx people are overrepresented in jails and prisons nationally, common misclassification leads to distorted, lower estimates of Latinx incarceration rates and distorted, higher estimates of white incarceration rates.


Black people are incarcerated at higher rates than white people across the rural-urban spectrum. Although urban areas still have the biggest racial disparities, they have made larger strides in reducing racial disparities over the past three decades than have rural counties and smaller cities, where total incarceration rates today are the highest.
Number of people incarcerated per 100,000 residents ages 15 to 64
Black/African AmericanWhite
Rural counties
Small/midsize metro areas
Suburban counties
Urban counties
U.S. total
Note: Smaller numbers and inconsistent data reporting make it difficult to measure incarceration rates for people of other races and ethnicities.


County Comparisons
Mass incarceration is a local problem that requires local solutions. Use the table below to see how key incarceration metrics compare for different U.S. counties. For each state, the table shows the county with the highest jail incarceration rate and the highest resident population.
Note: This table excludes counties in six states that run unified state systems that combine prisons and jails. These states are Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
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