Prisoner Count Increased Sharply in US, 1850-1860

face of a prisoner

Historical estimates for prisoners in the U.S. indicates that prisoner totals increased about twice as much from 1850 to 1860 relative to the increase from 1870 to 1880. Prisoners here refers to persons held in any type of penal incarceration facilities (prisons, jails, houses of corrections, workhouses, etc.). The estimated total number of prisoners increased 88% from 1850 to 1860, 70% from 1860 to 1870, and 45% from 1870 to 1880. Criminal convictions in New York State also show a sharp increase from 1850 to 1860. These data suggest that the social and political stress that preceded the Civil War was associated with greater punishment prevalence through the criminal justice system.

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