America! We’re number 1 in something!

It’s been said here before, but it bears repeating again:

Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’ – New York Times

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

[…] The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

Congrats America! We’re the best at locking our own people up! God Bless this Land of the Free!

15 thoughts on “America! We’re number 1 in something!

  1. I really can’t say what it’s like outside of Cook County, the county that Chicago is in, but the average arrest to conviction ratio for a typical criminal here is at least 5:1, often more like 10:1, and most criminals don’t get caught anywhere near the amount of times they break the law. 

    Drug prohibition clearly isn’t working, and it creates a profitable drug market, which of course leads to violent crime.  It’s estimated that at least half of the murders in Chicago are gang-related, generally over control of profitable drug selling locations.

  2. Despite Britain having more people serving longer than for many years, people still think that we are soft of criminals.  Interestingly when a case is put to ordinary people, the same info as the judge sentances on, they award SHORTER sentences than the criminal actually got.

    We have now Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (ISPP).  If this is imposed by the sentencing judge then at the end of the tariff, if the parole board decides you are still a danger, then you can be kept inside- try again next year.  When you are let out the licence is for life- break the law again, and you can get recalled for the original offence.  Some of these people could end up doing 20 years for assault.

  3. Drug prohibition clearly isn’t working, and it creates a profitable drug market, which of course leads to violent crime.

    Benior, my understanding (though I cannot point to statistics right now) is that the majority of the drug crimes resulting in prison time in the us were either due to posession (for either dealing or private use) and / or nonviolent crimes (theft) to fuel a drug addiction. Many critics have made the point that the WAR ON DRUGS hurts society more than it helps, and lands in jail many small-time criminals (or even “criminals” if you consider (some) drug-taking as a victimless crime). In jail, they cost the state a lot, cost society more (because they are out of work and unable to contribute to families etc… in any meaningful way) and only seem to harden as criminals.

    What’s the answer? Don’t know. But I certainly don’t support criminalisation of any but the most serious drugs. With alcohol-related deaths and violence being what it is, its all hypocrisy anyway. But prohibition doesn’t work except for criminals making money from it.

    Oh, and my home country has an incarceration rate of around 200 per 100,000. Pretty bad on its own, though we are so tiny, it only equates to around 8,000 people…

  4. Many crimes by young people are because of the effects of drugs.  They commit a crime not because the drug is illegal/expensive, but that they loose self control while high

  5. Drugs… Drugs are bad emmmm kayyyy.

    That about sums up a lot of people’s thoughts on drugs in US. They don’t know why and can’t explain the reasoning behind locking people up for smoking a joint, but drugs are bad.

    I think it was Nader or Kucinich that said we are the only country in the world that locks people up for their addictions rather than give them the treatment they deserve. So true.

  6. Last Hussar-
    I’m not sure what you mean by “young” but I have to disagree.  Young people commit a lot of crime with or without drugs, period.  There are correlations between poverty, lack of education, violent lifestyles, and drug use.  But I would hesitate to put much of the blame for crime on drugs.  Poverty, lack of education, and exposure to violence are potential causes, but it seems to me that excess drug use is more like a symptom, not a cause. 
    Most of the drug using teens I knew were careful not to get in a lot of trouble because of the extra penalties they would pay for getting caught with drugs.

    Certainly, a herion addicted 16-year-old isn’t going to have good impulse control, and may commit crimes because of drugs.  But cases like that are the exceptions, a handful of the millions of kids who do some drugs at some point.

    If you’ve seen lots of drugged up kids doing crimes, I suspect that most of them would have been just as rebellious at some point without drugs.  It requires only hormones and boredom.

  7. By young I mean teens.  I work in a Young Offenders Institute- a prison for those 18-21.  Many of the files I see the prisoner says that at the time of the crime he was either drunk, high or both.

    The drugs act as a disinhibitor, but yes, many come from a background where they are end up in situations where crime is an option, and they are likely to have been introduced to such disinhibitors.  The NHS treatment facilitator in the prison’s PASRO (Prison Addressing Subtence Related Offending) team told me that virtually everyone who comes into the prison has a abuse (even if ‘only alcohol’) problem. 

    Many are below average intelligence- far more than a general sample of the population should have.  The Sex Offenders Treatment Program run in prisons has to have a special version for those with low IQ’s.  Many go on the Enhanced Thinking course, in an attempt to get them to think before reacting, and to help develop empathy to other people.

    The cases I see are skewed, due to the type of prisoners it takes (long term- so often violent crimes), and I am sure there are many in other establishments in jail for supply.  However, legalising the supply will not reduce dependence or disinhibition.

  8. The cases I see are skewed, due to the type of prisoners it takes (long term- so often violent crimes), and I am sure there are many in other establishments in jail for supply.  However, legalising the supply will not reduce dependence or disinhibition.

    I feel that you could fairly argue though that legalising supply (of everything except stuff like crack, I guess) would

    a) free up law enforcement, legal and prison infrastructure to deal with that proportion of people who do commit crimes (whether while “high” or not)

    b) remove a major source of funding from criminal groups (by lowering both price and introducing legal competition – the main beneficiaries of prohibition were the mafia, the main benficiaries of drug sales today are gangs)

    c) remove the need for criminalisation of drug addicts (the logic behind all controlled drug hand-out programs for people who already ARE addicted anyway)

    Sounds better to me than putting some youth who has just smoked a joint behind bars.

  9. I don’t think that many users get banged up- there just isn’t the room, and other interventions are tried The prisons are nearly full (80,100 that is approx 1:750 of population, .13% of pop.

  10. Benior, my understanding (though I cannot point to statistics right now) is that the majority of the drug crimes resulting in prison time in the us were either due to posession (for either dealing or private use) and / or nonviolent crimes (theft) to fuel a drug addiction. Many critics have made the point that the WAR ON DRUGS hurts society more than it helps, and lands in jail many small-time criminals (or even “criminals” if you consider (some) drug-taking as a victimless crime). In jail, they cost the state a lot, cost society more (because they are out of work and unable to contribute to families etc… in any meaningful way) and only seem to harden as criminals.

    Dealing, possession, and small time crimes would have to make up the majority of drug related crimes that people are locked up for.  Most of the violent crime is done by dealers over profits, and there’s a lot more small time dealers and users than enforcers out there.

    Keep in mind, it’s often a lot easier to lock somebody up for possession of a controlled substance than crimes that addicts tend to commit (mostly theft and burglary).  Somebody steals copper wire from a construction site, unless you catch them in the act (or if the wire is marked with a utility’s logo), they’re getting away scot free, even if you see them pushing a garbage can with said wire.

  11. I want to see the correlation between black convicts and drug use conviction, both are very high.

  12. If people want to tamper with their own impulse control, alcohol will serve.  I seldom see people become violent when smoking marijuana though of course it does happen. 

    Just as a thought experiment, suppose you gave heroin to heroin addicts for free.  Have a doctor certify you’re addicted to heroin, show up at the government clinic, shoot up for free with clean smack and clean needles.  Heroin dealers couldn’t compete with free and would soon stop peddling heroin.  No new addicts.  Give health counseling to existing addicts, give them vitamins, control their tuberculosis to prevent them being infectious, save still more public health money.  If they want to get off the stuff, give them treatment.

    Sell marijuana in liquour stores, the price would fall much lower than the illicit market currently charges.  And so on.

    Now focus your public service announcements on educating people about drugs like we do with tobacco.  Focus your law enforcement on really dangerous drugs.  (Hint: hardly anyone has ever died of a marijuana overdose but PCP kills people all the time and results in extremely aggressive behavior.  For that matter something like 7,000 people a year die from stomach bleeding from over-the-counter NSAIDS.) 

    The truth is, some people will always use drugs.  We should try to do less harm than their drug use does.

  13. Why, DOF, heresy! That would mean government selling drugs to our childrenz!!!

    Nah, much better let government peddle in safe, clean things like arms sales, preventive war and torture. Lets not soil ourselves with heroin!

  14. Follow the buck: who benefits from all those arrests? TRIAL LAWYERS Who makes the laws so that the lawyers profit? TRIAL LAWYERS Hmmmmmmmmmmmm!

  15. Trial lawyers don’t actually make that much money as far as I know. For an awful lot of criminals, the whole idea of turning to crime is that you’re poor, and part of the point of the way the system is designed is to keep criminals habitual and back in prison where they’re not exactly going to be paying off their debts for non pro bono legal aid.

    I think you’re following the “money” wrong. The people who stand to benefit the most from arrests and convictions are elected officials and prosecutor-politicians. The position of prosecutor isn’t exactly rolling in dough compared to a corporate lawyer, but it’s often a fast-track to a more prestigious political position. Where’s the rest of the money? “Family values” lobbyists often can’t stand the notion that former criminals could ever be rehabilitated, so they push for longer and mandatory sentences to make certain that every criminal stays long enough in prison that they’re completely divorced from the outside world and all of their friends are other criminals. Law enforcement groups depend on criminals being out there to get funding, therefore it’s completely within their best interests to always lower the bar of what might be considered a crime so that they’re never in danger of budget cuts.

    The list goes on, but seriously, I’d be completely surprised if most criminal defense lawyers ever get the full amount they’re due and prosecutors are civil servants. Civil trial lawyers might make more money, but they’re not sending anyone to prison so they’re outside the scope of the discussion here.

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