First estimate of total U.S. population with felony convictions in new study

gavel, book, scale photo

gavel_Flickr.jpgThe war on drugs, tougher sentencing guidelines, enforcement and prosecution have resulted in generational impacts on the U.S. population, affecting state and local economies, healthcare access, voting patterns, housing and more:

New research led by a University of Georgia sociologist on the growth in the scope and scale of felony convictions finds that, as of 2010, 3 percent of the total U.S. population and 15 percent of the African-American male population have served time in prison. People with felony convictions more broadly account for 8 percent of the overall population and 33 percent of the African-American male population.

The study includes the first estimates of the felony conviction population and maps their distribution in the states, documenting the dramatic growth since 1980.

"There's been a great deal of scholarly and policy attention toward incarceration, and rightfully so, as it has very distinct consequences for people that have that experience, as well as their communities and families," said Sarah Shannon, assistant professor of sociology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and first author on the study.

"But the larger population who also have felony convictions face many of the same types of stigma that come with having been incarcerated-lack of access to jobs, lack of access to housing and welfare support-without necessarily having had the experience of spending time behind bars," she said.

Because the U.S. does not maintain a registry of data on people with felony convictions, researchers calculated estimates based on year-by-year data, and used demographic methods to estimate the numbers of deaths and re-incarceration to establish a number for each state and year.

The study estimates that as of 2010 there were 19 million people in the U.S. that have a felony record, including those who have been to prison, jail or on felony probation.

Great work by Dr. Shannon and her colleagues around the country. The findings are grim, distressing and definitive: we, as a society, simply cannot afford to live this way. Look for more work, building on these estimates, to support new and better policy choices across the board. Because these policies are not working.

Gavel image via Flickr