Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leading the World... At One Percent

A stunning and depressing fact:

..As of January 1 [2008], 1,596,127 people [are] in state and federal prisons and 723,131 [are] in local jails -- a total 2,319,258 out of almost 230 million American adults.

...the United States is the world's incarceration leader, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which make up the rest of the Top 10.

We certainly are fortunate to live in an extraordinary country, but it should never be said that we do not have tremendous and unique problems to solve.

I can't recall hearing a single Presidential candidate mention this issue, much less a plan to address it.

Perhaps because it is politically dangerous.

Unless you believe that a disproportionate number of Americans commit offenses worthy of imprisonment, or you believe that our ability to catch and prosecute offenders is vastly superior to every single other country, these figures suggest that we need a major reexamination of certain parts of our legal system.

But beyond calling for tougher sentences, hiring more cops and building more jails, crime is risky topic for a politician to discuss. Sadly, nuance can be portrayed as weakness... and I can't help but think this dynamic, while by no means totally responsible, has contributed to our situation today.

The source article, from, is here.


Unknown said...

I won't argue that such a statistic does not indicate a major problem in American society, but it is difficult to draw direct comparisons with other nations as our situation is quite unique.

Permit me briefly to flirt with the politically incorrect terminology of the Cold War era. To compare us with our fellow First World nations is not entirely fair; none of them has our combination of enormous land area, enormous population, and ethnic/religious/linguistic diversity. England, France, and Germany have decent-sized populations but are quite small geographically. Canada is physically vast but not highly populated. Japan has a very respectable fraction of our population, but they're all Japanese (a culture known for deference and quiet obedience). To compare us with the historically repressive Second World (Russia, China) or the Third World (India, Indonesia) seems even more incongruous.

So, as I say, I don't claim that this doesn't represent a problem, but it's hard to tell how much of a problem just by looking at the rest of the world.

Jared said...

I think I agree with everything you are saying - and I definitely wasn't attempting to make any claims that our legal system was inferior to any or all former Soviet Republics!

I was simply saying that this is a striking and surprising statistic that demands futher investigation into the root causes. I also observed that certain aspects of politics make it difficult to do this. No more, no less.

Unknown said...

I don't know how many people are in prison on disgracefully unjust drug-related sentences, but I bet it's a lot.

Unknown said...

This is unrelated, but I feel irresistibly compelled to report whenever McCain demonstrates that he is evil and/or stupid:

John McCain rejects science.