We've all heard about the overall numbers, that the U.S. makes up 5% of the world population but has 25% of the world's incarcerated, but here's another way to look at it:
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.
A number of factors are mentioned as explanation of 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.
Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing."The article describes how this is a fairly recent phenomenon.
The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)As a further attempt to explain the discrepancy, we have this gem of a quote.
The nation's relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.Naturally, I liked those words on the part of the author of the article because they perfectly match what I always say. I really don't think it's fair to attribute this opinion to people who lie or ignore facts. I believe it's a fair conclusion which many of us come to.
"The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different," said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. "But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it's much higher."
The other comment I liked too. I don't know what agenda the Sentencing Project might be trying to further with this remark, unless it's to support the claims often made on this blog.
What's your opinion? Last week a couple commenters mentioned that the problem with our criminal justice system is that it's too lenient, that the plea bargaining system weakens it too much. Does that make sense to you in light of our standing in the world? Should we lock more people up and keep them locked up for longer?
Please tell us what you think.