Monday, December 11, 2006

Crime And Punishment

It's somewhat shocking that one in every 32 Americans is behind bars, on probation or on parole. This is not an international ranking the U.S. probably wants to lead, but there you go:

According to the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College in London, more people are behind bars in the United States than in any other country. China ranks second with 1.5 million prisoners, followed by Russia with 870,000.

The U.S. incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000 people in the highest, followed by 611 in Russia and 547 for St. Kitts and Nevis. In contrast, the incarceration rates in many Western industrial nations range around 100 per 100,000 people.

Groups advocating reform of U.S. sentencing laws seized on the latest U.S. prison population figures showing admissions of inmates have been rising even faster than the numbers of prisoners who have been released.

"The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. We rank first in the world in locking up our fellow citizens," said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports alternatives in the war on drugs.

"We now imprison more people for drug law violations than all of western Europe, with a much larger population, incarcerates for all offenses."

There are other reasons for the greater incarceration rate, too, having to do with how crime tends to rise with income inequality and such.

It's an interesting topic. One of those invisible elephants in much public debate. For example, when the fashion in the 1990s was to attack poor single mothers on welfare as the source of all our problems very few voices pointed out how much more expensive the prisons are for taxpayers to maintain. I chose that comparison, because incarceration is predominantly a male problem, and that may be why it is an invisible one.