Behind bars: Photos capture the reality of incarceration in the US

It's no surprise that incarceration in the United States is a complex issue. The nation currently leads the world with 2.2 million people serving in jails or prisons. This is up 500 percent from the last 30 years, according to The Sentencing Project, despite the fact that the crime rate has actually dropped during that time.

The issues that plague the criminal justice system -- overcrowding, prison reform, mental illness and diminishing funds, racial bias -- are not new, but they have become more burdensome over time.

More and more people are questioning the economic, societal, and political cost of incarcerating these people.

One of the reasons for the influx in the prison population is because more of those who are arrested are being sent to jails, especially for misdemeanors, and are staying there for longer periods of time. A recent report even states that nearly 60 percent of the people locked up have not been convicted yet or cannot afford bail. Another major reason for the rising numbers is the higher percentage of people in prison who are poor or mentally ill.

However, when you mix these different aspects together, it creates a hazardous environment for everyone involved. ​

Sure, many of these people who are in prisons and jails have criminal records -- but there is always another side to every story.

SEE MORE: 5 facts about police brutality in the United States that will shock you

Research shows that over-incarceration ​may actually increase future crime. Nonviolent offenders are frequently in the same company as violent ones, which could lead to more violent behavior. As The National Review points out, "offenders entering prison for nonviolent crimes often face the very real problem that if they respond to threats with violence, they risk extended time in prison."

Recently, President Barack Obama announced changes to federal processes in order to make it easier for convicted criminals to find work. The Department of Justice has also released nearly 6,000 prisoners and rolled back some of the outdated sentencing laws facing criminals, especially ones that involve nonviolent drug offenses.

Finding a way to decrease the incarceration rate and all the issues that come with it is not an easy task. Discovering solutions to reduce cost, effectively diminish crime rate and help productively reintroduce convicted criminals into society is one that will take time. But the long journey has only just begun.

Watch below to learn the numbers behind President Obama's push for prison reform:

The Numbers Behind Obama's Push for Prison Reform
The Numbers Behind Obama's Push for Prison Reform

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