Updated: August 21, 2023 6:55 PM UTC
Recent national declines in incarceration mask significant differences in jail and prison population and admission trends across states and regions. Use the data below to explore how incarceration varies across Massachusetts along key incarceration metrics.
Change in the total number of people behind bars since 1970.
Percent of the jail population held pretrial.
Number of times people are sent to local jails annually.
Jail and Prison Incarceration
Although the terms “jail” and “prison” are commonly used interchangeably, there are important differences. Jails are locally run facilities that primarily hold unconvicted people who have been arrested and are awaiting a resolution to their case. Many people are in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay bail, fines, or fees. Other people are in jail serving shorter sentences for misdemeanor or low-level felony convictions, or are locked up for violating probation or other forms of supervision. In some states, jails also hold people serving state prison sentences, as well as people being held for federal authorities. Prisons are state or federal institutions where people who have been convicted of crimes are sent to serve sentences of imprisonment. Since around one in three incarcerated people nationwide are held in jails, incarceration must be measured using numbers that represent people in both jails and prisons.
Over the last several decades, women's incarceration has grown much more rapidly than men's. Today, women in the U.S. are incarcerated at 10 times the level in 1970 and this increase has been primarily driven by rural counties. Use the charts below to see women's jail and prison incarceration in your state since 1970.
Women's total incarceration
State totalAsian American/Pacific IslanderBlack/African AmericanLatinxNative AmericanWhite
Note: Analysis of the women's jail population by race is not available. Breakdowns of the women's prison population by race are presented in states where that data is available. For more information, see the methodology.
Racial Disparities in Incarceration
The gap between incarceration rates for Black and white people has narrowed in recent years. However, people of color―and Black people in particular―are still incarcerated at strikingly higher rates than white people in jails and prisons across the country. Black people are treated more harshly than white people at every stage of the criminal legal process, causing disproportionate harm to their communities. The bar graphs below show the proportion of people in prison who are from each racial group against that group’s share of the general resident population.
State population, as a percentage of total populationAsian American/Pacific IslanderBlack/African AmericanLatinxNative AmericanWhite
Asian American/Pacific Islander
Use the charts below to see how racial disparities in prison incarceration have changed over time.
Prison population vs resident population by race
Asian American/Pacific Islander
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. For more information, see the methodology.
Mass incarceration is a local problem that requires local solutions. Use the table below to see key incarceration metrics for your county and compare them to other counties in your state.