Ted McLaughlin : U.S. Leads World in Incarceration Rate

Chart shows skyrocketing rate of incarceration in U.S. as of 2006.

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

We’re number one!
U.S. is off charts in rate of incarceration

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / November 11, 2010

The citizens of the United States like to think of this country as a free country, but recent statistics regarding incarceration of its citizens in prison paint a very different picture. The United States has more people in prison (both men and women) than any other nation on earth, including nations we regard as police states or nations that generally have little regard for human rights.

The United States currently incarcerates more than 2.2 million people — a prison population that has exploded since 1980 (see above chart). Some might think that is because we are a very populous country, but that would be wrong. Compared to other high-population countries, the United States prison population is 153% higher than Russia, 505% higher than Brazil, 550% higher than India, and more than 2,000% higher than Nigeria, Indonesia or Bangladesh.

And when the rate of incarceration per 100,000 people is considered, the United States doesn’t look any better. Here are the top 20 countries with the highest incarceration rates:

  1. United States……………738
  2. Russian Federation……………607
  3. Cuba……………487
  4. Ukraine……………360
  5. Singapore……………350
  6. Botswana……………339
  7. South Africa……………335
  8. Taiwan……………259
  9. Thailand……………257
  10. United Arab Emirates……………250
  11. Poland……………228
  12. Israel……………209
  13. Libya……………207
  14. Iran……………206
  15. Mexico……………196
  16. Brazil……………191
  17. Uzbekistan……………184
  18. Lebanon……………168
  19. Columbia……………152
  20. Argentina……………148

Compare the 738 per 100,000 people of the United States to many other developed democratic nations:

  • United Kingdom……………145
  • Spain……………145
  • Australia……………126
  • Canada……………107
  • Italy……………102
  • Germany……………95
  • France……………88
  • Ireland……………78
  • Sweden……………78
  • Japan……………62

Even such countries as China (118), Iraq (60) and Pakistan (57) have much lower rates of incarceration than the United States.

Why do we have so many people in jail? Is the crime rate so much higher in the United States? No. According to criminologists Alfred Blumstein and Allen Beck, the rise in crime can only account for less than 12% of the rise in the prison population since 1980. It is the extremely harsh and long prison sentences being given out in this country that account for much of the other 88% of the prison population explosion.

Sadly, the long prison sentences and the rising prison population have not made this a safer country. The violent crime rate, especially regarding murder, remains one of the highest in the civilized world. And it has put a strain on this country economically. The most conservative estimate is that we spend over $42 billion annually to incarcerate our huge prison population (and we still generally have overcrowded and unsafe conditions in most of our prisons).

Currently there are about 9.2 million people incarcerated worldwide. But if all nations followed United States incarceration policies and regulations, that figure would balloon to over 47.6 million people.

Another reason for our prison population explosion since 1980 is the failed “war on drugs”. The United States incarcerates more people for drug offenses than the European Union incarcerates for all offenses combined, and yet the drug flow into the country and drug use by citizens has not been abated.

Obviously, we are doing something wrong in this country. A free country should not have a prison population so out-of-whack when compared to the rest of the world (the average rate per 100,000 people worldwide is only 166). We need to take another look at our sentencing policies. We also need to stop the failed “war on drugs” and treat drugs like the medical and education problem that it really is.

For too long now the answer to our social problems has been just to “lock them up and throw away the key.” It isn’t working.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

The Rag Blog

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3 Responses to Ted McLaughlin : U.S. Leads World in Incarceration Rate

  1. T.G. Fisher says:

    Jail/prison sentences,long or short,make no difference because the amoral,asocial thugs are released to repeat their crimes. Some begin the same day but most commit one or more felonies within a month after their release. And each time someone is a victim. Mugged, beaten, robbed, raped, a victim of theft and traumatized for the rest of their lives. The knee jerks have forgotten why people were able to settle in the west (after we murdered the original inhabitants). Groups of citizens who would not tolerate criminal trash rode them down and killed them. After a few years things got peaceful. There is a solution to overcrowded jails. Get ready to snivel, you libs. The solution is tall trees and short ropes. We have plenty of both in this country. The shortage is guts and brains.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I would say TG has a point except the real murderers and sociopaths – I mean the real “Pros”, are largely NOT found in our jails, they populate Wall Street, K Street, a pretty good batch of giant corporations, though some have moved to Dubai recently…others have land in Paraguay or similar countries with no extradition agreements.

  3. tianad2192 says:

    You are absolutely correct in regards to the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world. I recently wrote a research paper on the topic of our high incarceration rate. I agree with what you are proposing: that the extremely harsh and long prison sentences are the reason for why there are so many people in jail. To add on to what you were saying, the government is not doing a very good job in regulating the money that is used for our correctional facilities. $42 billion annually is an obsurd amount compared to the 10.6 billion that was spent annually back in 1987. Statistics also say that more than half of the inmates are in prison for drug abuse. There are more drug offenders in our prisons than actual murderers. If we limit the time for incarceration in drug offenses, you will see a major shift in the incarceration rate. I feel that drug offender cases should focus more on finding treatment or rehab facilities for these people. Typically, if they are not treated, they are just going to repeat their drug acts as soon as they get out of prison. Statistics also show , from a study in New York, that more than half of the drug offenders that took some sort of treatment or rehab were able to recover and stay out of prison. If we provided a mandatory treatment facility, the rates in drug offenders as well as the incarceration rate would go down, as well as the governmental funding cost.

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