Skip to Main Content
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Committee on Law and Justice
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States
Exploring Causes and Consequences
Incarceration cover

View, buy or download the report



Incarceration Infographic pic150W

View or download the infographic

Related Reports


Health and Incarceration: A Workshop Summary provides perspective on an important set of policy issues. Undertaken in conjunction with the report on the causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration in the United States, it is a valuable compendium of expert insights and policy ideas for health professionals and policy makers working on these issues.
 After decades of stability, U.S. federal and state prison populations escalated steadily between 1973 and 2009, growing from about 200,000 people to 1.5 million. The increase was driven by changes in policy that imprisoned people for a wider range of offenses and imposed longer sentences.  Has this greater reliance on incarceration yielded significant benefits for the nation, or is a change in course needed? 

Aa committee of the National Research Council examined the best available evidence and found no clear evidence that greater reliance on imprisonment achieved its intended goal of substantially reducing crime. Moreover, the rise in incarceration may have had a wide range of unwanted consequences for society, communities, families, and individuals. The committee’s report, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, urges policymakers to reduce the nation’s reliance on incarceration and seek crime-control strategies that are more effective, with fewer unwanted consequences.

Watch a 3.5 minute overview of the report, which explains how incarceration rates increased in the United States and why the nation now needs a change in course.


Additional Materials

See the Dissemination Toolkit
  • Issue Briefs and Report Brief
  • Figures from Report 
  • Videos and Infographic
Report Brief: Summary of Report Findings

Past Events

Other Past Events 
In the News

Behind the Rise in Mass Incarceration - New York Times Opinion (October 2, 2015)

Criminal Justice Reform Begins with Fair Sentencing and Fair Chances – The American Spectator (August 27, 2015)

What We Learned from German Prisons – New York Times Op-ed (August 6, 2015)

Cose: Reform Criminal Justice Now – USA Today (August 2, 2015)

Obama's Prison Reform Pitch to Highlight Soaring Costs of Incarceration – The Guardian (July 14, 2015)

Criminalizing Our Community – PsycCRITIQUES (July 13, 2015, Vol. 60, No. 28, Article 9)

Mass Incarceration: The Silence of the Judges – The New York Review of Books (May 21, 2015)

The Many Causes of America's Decline in Crime – The Atlantic (February 11, 2015)

In a Safer Age, U.S. Rethinks Its "Tough on Crime" System – The New York Times (January 13, 2015)

Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics – NPR (January 7, 2015)
Listen to the Story

Protests shine light on deeper issues with modern justice – The Boston Globe (December 16, 2014)

Guest Opinion: America's morally adrift prison policies – The Herald News (December 9, 2014)

State Lawmakers Want to Look at Alternatives for Non-Violent Offenders — Eyewitness News KOB4 (November 7, 2014)

Holder: "We Can't Incarcerate Our Way to Public Safety"The Crime Report (September 24, 2014)

Holder SpeechLHolder Cites Findings of Report
On May 8, at a symposium of the National Association of Attorneys General, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder discussed the report. Holder called it a "landmark study" that brings into sharp focus the importance of efforts to make the criminal justice system more efficient and effective.  Video Clip | Full Speech

Press Release (April 30, 2014)

More Media Coverage


CLAJ Home About CLAJ CLAJ Mission CLAJ Members CLAJ Staff Other Sites of Interest News and Events Upcoming Events Past Events Our Work Overview Current Projects Past Projects Publications CLAJ Reports CLAJ Newsletter Work With Us Our Study Process Study Process Brochure Getting to Know the Committee Process Overview for Sponsors Guide for Study Sponsors