Watch How Quickly The War On Drugs Changed America's Prison Population


America's prisons are extremely overcrowded, and tough-on-crime laws implemented in the 1980s and 1990s contributed heavily to growing the U.S. prison population. The U.S. accounts for only 5% of the world population, but holds 25% of the world's prisoners.


Redditor Sen_Mendoza posted a GIF that shows how dramatically the U.S. prison population changed after President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs in the 1970s.

Check it out:

U.S. Imprisonment Rate Per 100,000 Residents, 1978-2012

The prison population across the U.S. starts off relatively low in the late 1970s, with most states having about 130 to 260 prisoners per 100,000 people.


By the late 1990s, incarceration rates have risen to more than 600 prisoners per 100,000 people in some states, including Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. By the 2000s, every state in America saw its imprisonment rate rise significantly.

The prisoners included in the statistics are under state or federal jurisdiction and have a sentence of more than one year.

The War on Drugs, which led to long prison sentences for drug offenders, is largely considered a massive failure that led to prison overcrowding without significantly changing U.S. drug abuse rates.

Fareed Zakaria writes for TIME:

Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America's federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.


The country is slowly moving away from the drug policies of the 1980s and 1990s. Many states have eased drug laws over the past few years to lower penalties for drug possession charges, shorten mandatory minimums, and provide alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system.