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Criminal Record Statistics in the Land of the Free

Damjan Jugovic Spajic Image
Updated:

April 08,2022

With more than two million people behind bars, the United States imprisons a larger share of its population than any other country in the world. The US might be the land of the free on paper, but over 70 million Americans have been arrested or convicted of a crime. And for those with a criminal record, prospects of a second chance are dim. A closer look at the country’s criminal record statistics also reveals that race is another critical variable when it comes to mass incarceration.

Key US Criminal Records Statistics
More than 70 million American adults (one in three) have a criminal record. 
There were more than 7.6 million arrests in the US in 2020 alone.
The US has the world’s largest prison population of more than two million people.
Most crimes reported to police go unsolved.
African Americans convicted of murder are 50% more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers.
For every 100,000 black adults in the US, there are 1,501 black prisoners.
More than 27% of those with a criminal record are unemployed.
5.17 million Americans were forbidden from voting in 2020 due to a felony conviction.

General US Criminal Record Statistics for 2022

More than 70 million adults in the US have a criminal record.

(Brennan Center for Justice)

That disturbing figure means that one in three American adults have been arrested or convicted of a crime at some point in their lives. Those who have been to prison or are currently imprisoned, account for roughly 15% (10 million) of the total.

There were more than 7.6 million arrests in the US in 2020. 

(Statista) 

As high as these numbers are, criminal arrest records reveal that the arrest rate for all offenses in the US has actually declined since the 1990s. For example, in 1997, more than 15.2 million people were arrested. By 2017, that figure had dropped to slightly more than 10.5 million, translating into 3,152.6 arrests per 100,000 residents.

Almost half of all black males are arrested at least once by the time they turn 23.

(Crime and Delinquency)

A study published in the academic journal, Crime and Delinquency examined the cumulative arrest histories of males from different races between the ages of 18 and 23. The study used data covering the period between 1997 and 2008. Excluding arrests for minor traffic violations, the study found that 30% of black males are arrested at least once by age 18. That figure climbs to 49% by the time black American males turn 23.

By comparison, 38% of white males are arrested by the age of 23, and 22% experience at least one arrest by the time they turn 18. When it comes to Hispanic males, 26% are arrested by the age of 18 and 44% by 23. These arrests can impede employment opportunities and affect access to housing as criminal records show up during background checks.

Wrongful Conviction Statistics

Sometimes, the entire system, which is tasked with ensuring truth and justice and includes police, prosecutors, and judges, fails to fulfill its responsibilities. These failures often result in wrongful convictions and ruined lives. Below are some alarming statistics of wrongful convictions.

The state of Texas had the highest number of exonerations (363) in the US over the last 30 years.

(Neal Davis Law Firm)

Texas is tough on crime, but it also leads the nation in the number of wrongful convictions. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Illinois is in second place with 303 wrongful convictions between 1989 and 2019. New York and California also have a high number of exonerations. Over the last three decades, an estimated 2,468 people in the US collectively lost more than 21,000 years in prison due to wrongful convictions.     

African Americans convicted of murder are 50% more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers.

(University of California Irvine)

With all of the progress being made to curb racism all around the world, you’d think race no longer plays a role in the American justice system. Unfortunately, it does. African-Americans who are convicted of murder in the US are 50% more likely to be wrongfully accused than other individuals convicted of the same crime. What’s more, the percentage of murder exonerees of all races who were convicted of killing white victims is even higher (52%).

A black person doing time for sexual assault is 3½ times more likely to be innocent than his white counterparts.

(University of California Irvine)

According to criminal justice statistics, African-American males who are in jail for sexual assault are 3½ times more likely to have been wrongfully accused and convicted than white males convicted for the same crime. One of the main culprits behind this racial disparity is mistaken eyewitness identification by white victims of violent crimes who implicate black individuals.

Incarceration Statistics

We’ve already touched on the fact that the US has the largest prison population in the world. The following states offer a further breakdown of those numbers.

US prisons, jails, and other types of detention facilities house more than two million people.

(Statista, Prison Policy Initiative) 

The US has 639 prisoners for every 100,000 residents. They are spread throughout 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 2,850 local jails, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian Country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and detention facilities in US territories.

For every 100,000 black adults in the US, there are 1,501 black prisoners.

(Pew Research Center)

Some of the more recent data show that the number of African American inmates per 100,000 black adults has declined significantly in recent years. In 2006, there were 2,261 black inmates per 100,000 black adults. However, these numbers exclude people sentenced to one year in prison or shorter periods, as well as those held in local jails who are still awaiting sentencing. 

Meanwhile, the imprisonment rate among the Hispanic community is 797 inmates for every 100,000 adults. The rate among whites is 268 prisoners per 100,000 adults.         

The average felony bail bond in the US is $10,000.

(Prison Policy Initiative)

This amount of money is the equivalent of roughly eight months of income for an average defendant. In most cases, low-income individuals aren’t able to post bail and end up spending time in pretrial detention. In an effort to avoid jail, some end up going into debt.  

Crime Statistics by States

Some states are safer than others. And even though the pandemic ushered in a wave of violent and property crimes, the hyperlocal nature of crime means that this phenomenon is affecting different parts of the country in different ways. Here are some stats that paint a clearer picture.

California has the highest number of homicides.

(Statista)

The number of homicides has spiked across the US in recent years. California had the highest number of murders, with a total of 2,203 homicide cases in 2020. Texas came in second with 1,931 murders.

While this can certainly be interpreted as an alarming statistic, it’s important to note that both of these states have the largest populations in the country, and their murder rates per 100,000 residents are actually below the national average. Meanwhile, the District of Columbia, which saw 201 homicides in 2020, has the country's highest murder rate or 28.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Louisiana came in second with 15.8 murders per 100,000 people.

Maine has the lowest reported violent crime rate in the US.

(Statista)

Violent crimes are offenses in which a perpetrator uses or threatens to use force against the victim. Unfortunately, a lot of these crimes aren’t reported to authorities. According to data on crime rates per state, Maine has the lowest reported violent crime rate in the United States, with 108.6 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020. New Hampshire and Vermont rank second and third, with 146.4 and 173.4 crimes per 100,000, respectively.

On the other end of the spectrum, the District of Columbia tops the list with 999.8 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

There are more than 100,000 violent crimes committed in Texas every year.

(Neighborhood Scout)

Texas is another state with a high violent crime rate. Another is California. Violent crimes committed in the Lone Star state in 2020 amounted to 131,084 at a crime rate of 4.50 per 1,000 residents. If you live in Texas, the chances of you falling victim to a violent crime are 1 in 222.

The number of property crimes is even greater, with about 659,160 crimes committed at a rate of 22.62 per 1,000.

US Crime Statistics

Given the worrying law and order situation in the US, there is no shortage of online sources offering data on crime. But the most reliable and accurate figures come from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Their records show that a sizable percentage of violent and property crimes go unsolved. 

Less than half of all crimes committed are reported.

(Pew Research Center)

In 2019, only 40.9% of violent crimes and 32.5% of property victimizations were reported to the police. That’s according to criminal justice stats compiled by the BJS.

The Bureau notes that there are several reasons why victims do not report crimes. Some are afraid of reprisals, and others don’t want to get the offender in trouble. Sometimes the victims feel the police won’t or can’t offer any help. That’s not exactly surprising when we consider the performance of law enforcement in areas such as identity theft, where a very small percentage of criminals are identified and caught.

Property crime is more common than violent crime.

(Pew Research Center)

Property crime includes burglary, theft, arson, vandalism, and motor vehicle theft, among other offenses. FBI records show that in 2019, there were 2,109 property crimes per 100,000 persons. Meanwhile, the number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 people was 379.4. 

In the digital age, many are rightfully focused on shielding their private information online. But it’s equally important to take steps to avoid becoming a victim of property crime by using protective devices and our common sense.    

The most frequently solved violent crimes are homicides.

(Pew Research Center)

Police cleared 61.4% of homicide cases in 2019. That’s six out of ten murders and non-negligent manslaughters.

Crime conviction statistics show significantly lower clearance rates for other types of crimes, including aggravated assault (52.3%), rape (32.9%), and robbery (30.5%).

Only 45.5% of all reported violent crimes were solved/cleared by law enforcement in 2019.

(Pew Research Center)

We’ve already touched on the fact that a lot of crimes don’t get reported. But of the ones that do, a sizable chunk never gets solved. Only 45.5% of all reported violent crimes in the country in 2019 were cleared by police. The figures for property crime are even worse, with only 17.2% of those solved by law enforcement agencies.

52.1% of aggravated assault cases were reported in 2019.

(Pew Research Center)

While many victims are unlikely to report property crimes, some violent crimes are reported more frequently than others. Records show that aggravated assault is the most likely to be reported (52.1%). Other crimes committed throughout 2019 weren’t reported as often, including assault (37.9%), robbery (46.6%), and rape/sexual assault (33.9%).

Felony Statistics

Felonies are crimes typically involving the use of violence and are considered more serious than misdemeanors. Kidnapping, murder, rape, burglary, and arson can all result in felony charges. Here are some interesting stats on felonies.

During the 2020 presidential election, 5.17 million Americans were not allowed to vote due to felony convictions.

(The Sentencing Project)

The US Constitution states that the right to vote must not be denied or abridged to anyone who is 18 years of age or older. However, according to criminal record statistics, about 5.17 million US citizens faced disenfranchisement because they had previously been convicted of a felony

To be disenfranchised means to be deprived of the right to vote. The millions prevented from voting in 2020 account for roughly 2.3% of the American electorate.

An estimated 900,000 Floridians remain disenfranchised despite having completed sentences for felony convictions.

(The Sentencing Project)

Despite the promises of a 2018 ballot referendum to restore their voting rights and despite having served their sentences, there are still an estimated 900,000 residents in Florida who cannot vote due to felony convictions.

This makes Florida America’s disenfranchisement leader, with over 1.1 million Floridians banned from any voting activity. Many of those simply can’t afford to pay court-ordered monetary sanctions. Furthermore, the state is under no obligation to tell them how much their sanction costs.

An estimated 15% of the African-American male population spent time in prison.

(University of Georgia)

When examining felony convictions, those percentages are even higher, with 33% of the African-American male population having been convicted of a felony. The findings by the University of Georgia also reveal that the felony conviction population in the US has grown dramatically since 1980.  

Criminal Record Employment Statistics

Being convicted of a crime and having a criminal record attached to your name makes it hard to find a job in the US. And these days, there are a number of tools that your neighbors and acquaintances can use to dig up information about your past. 

Employment isn’t the only challenge for those with a criminal record. Housing options may also be limited if you’ve been convicted of a crime. The following section offers criminal record stats that are related to employment.

14% of HR managers would not hire someone with a criminal record.

(Society for Human Resource Management)

About 14% of human resource professionals are not willing to employ individuals with criminal records. However, nearly 50% wouldn't mind, as they do not consider someone’s criminal history to be a critical factor in the recruitment process. 

When criminal records are considered during the hiring process, the focus should be on how the organization’s environment (customers/clients, competitors, and employees) would react and industry regulations. It is not a reflection of the applicants’ abilities. HR professionals are even more open to hiring people with criminal records when they receive records about education and training.

More than 27% of those with a criminal record are unemployed.

(Prison Policy Initiative)

Essential criminal record statistics on employment show that more than 27% of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed. That number is higher than any unemployment rate in the US at any time in history, including the Great Depression. It’s roughly five times higher than the unemployment rate among the general public.

This underscores the fact that those with criminal records want to work, but finding jobs can be difficult. The challenge is even greater when the formerly incarcerated persons are black, Hispanic, or women.

(Society for Human Resource Management)

There are some crimes that hiring managers are more likely to overlook when dealing with people who have criminal records. Substance-related felonies are at the top of the list.

65% of managers and 78% of HR professionals are forgiving when it comes to DUIs and drug-related crimes. For misdemeanors such as vandalism and shoplifting, 67% of managers and 70% of HR professionals wouldn’t mind hiring such an employee.

Six states offer rehabilitation certificates to people with a criminal history.

(Society for Human Resource Management)

Hiring managers examine multiple factors when considering candidates with criminal histories. They look at the applicant's performance record and references. But it’s also important to have a certificate of rehabilitation, which is now being offered by six states: California, Nevada, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, and Illinois.

A certificate of rehabilitation greatly improves an applicant's chances of getting a job. Giving people who have a criminal record a second chance is a great way to improve the grim crime statistics in the United States.

Criminal records involving violent felonies, sexual offenses, or financial crimes are least likely to be overlooked by employers.

(Society for Human Resource Management)

While some managers and HR professionals tend to overlook minor offenses, they aren’t always ready to accommodate those who spent time in prison. 

Only 19% of managers and 16% of HR professionals are willing to hire individuals convicted of financial crimes. When it comes to individuals found guilty of sexual assault, only 11% of managers and 9% of HR professionals are open to considering applications. Meanwhile, 28% of managers and 20% of HR professionals said they would consider hiring individuals convicted of violent felonies like domestic violence.

Final Thoughts

Based on the aforementioned stats, it’s safe to argue that the US has a very unique mass incarceration problem. This has given rise to higher unemployment rates, a disproportionate incarceration rate of minorities, the restriction of suffrage, and of course, the world’s largest prison population.  

Further Reading

Data Breach Statistics That Will Make You Think Twice Before Filling Out an Online Form
FAQ
What counts towards a criminal record?

If you have admitted to a crime or have been found guilty of one, then it would typically count towards a criminal record. Sometimes, you may not have committed a crime personally, but if one is done in your name due to identity theft, you may still end up with a tarnished record.

Do criminal records stay for life?

A criminal record can follow you around indefinitely, but it doesn't necessarily have to. Some states allow record expungement, which makes it possible for the records to be either sealed from public view or destroyed. 

Why is it important to collect statistics on crime?

Criminal record statistics are important for a number of reasons. They are used by law enforcement agencies during budget formulation and are an important asset in crime prevention.  

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