The Troubling U.S. Incarceration Rate

The NY Times’ Adam Liptak has penned a couple of interesting articles recently (here and here) on a frequent topic of this blog — the troubling incarceration rate in the United States.

With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. now houses almost a quarter (2.3 million!) of the world’s prisoners. One in 100 adults in the U.S. is now behind bars and 751 people are in U.S. prisons or jails for every 100,000 in population.

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close to that rate of incarceration is Russia with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. England’s rate is 151, Germany’s is 88 and Japan’s is 63.

Attempting to keep all of this in perspective, Pepperdine University’s James Q. Wilson provides this recent op-ed that puts the U.S. incarceration rate in a more favorable light with regard to reducing serious crime.

Among other things, these incarceration numbers certainly makes one wonder why on earth we are sending folks like Jeff Skilling, the NatWest Three, the Nigerian Barge defendants and Jamie Olis to prison?

Meanwhile, in this five-part LA Times debate, Reason’s Jacob Sullum takes on the Heritage Foundation’s Charles Stimson over one of the main reasons for the high U.S. incarceration rate — drug prohibition.

At least in this first installment, Sullum makes a much more compelling case than Stimson. And Peter Gordon has this sage observation about the genesis of drug prohibition.

One thought on “The Troubling U.S. Incarceration Rate

  1. The double citation of the USA statistics, first rounding to 1 in 100, then citing the 750 in 100K, bumps the numbers up by 0.25%, by my calculation. I did it in Excel 2003, not ordinarily prone to wild variations in arithmetic.
    Expressed as percentages, the comparative incarceration rates are much clearer than numbers per 100K. That must be some flakey sort of humanities number crunching, so that appearances can be more easily spun. Itís still sort of perversely pleasing that, no matter how you look at it, weíre still number one. I bet if you compared the percentages worldwide, by nation, that there are quite a few that would shame us, though, and we would not be the leader by a long shot.
    I also bet that some of the very, very low incarceration-rate nations, if you look at them real hard, are the same nations where one should be careful where one digs a hole, because of the numbers of mass graves scattered randomly around the countryside. Because, rather than jailing their persons of all sorts of non-conformist behavior, they kill them.
    I agree that our foolish passage of laws incarcerate needlessly. Lots of people. I disagree with your selection of the needlessly incarcerated parties. I feel like there are a bunch of white-collar criminals who should be jailed that are not, and there are a bunch of blue-collar people who should not be jailed that are stuck away for long terms. People who do not have the millions and millions of dollars scam artists like Skilling, et. Al., have to throw in front of attorneys of every sort. I donít mean only defenders. I mean prosecutors, judges, legislators, you name it. Thatís how those guys can do anything they want and slide.

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