Wednesday, April 23, 2008

U S A ! U S A ! We're Number One, We're Number O...

At the overcrowded California Institution for Men, the gymnasium is used for bunks. (Monica Almeida/The New York Times)
U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations
By Adam Liptak

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.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China's extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

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.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America's extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.
There's lots more at the link in the Hed, all of it equally horrifying. Does it all lead to the conclusion that, yeah, we dah baddest mutha-fockas on de planet? Innit the GOP wet-dream?


Mr. Pelican said...

The failure of our prison system is an indictment of every strata of our society. Our lick penny culture has always believed it's cheaper to lock people up than feed, educate and provide meaningful employment.
SO now these bitch babies are going to complain we have too many cons. What the %$#&#^$ did you silly shits expect? This is just one more conservative's legacy coming home to bite us on the arse. And have these vinicious knids learned anything? NO! The cry is still "don't raise my taxes". When are the people of this country, who scream "conservatisim" going to start following the tenets of their screed and start living within their means, which means paying for the services that they demand?

Alexandra said...

I just read something about (somewhere) the Supremes cutting the ability of prisoners to file "frivolous" lawsuits about rights, sexual abuse, etc., etc., etc. Innit wonderful? Now if they can do that to the rest of the population they will think they are really pigs in shit (which they are).