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America Leads the World in Incarcerations

The New York Times has a pretty in-depth article on America’s staggeringly high rates of incarceration.

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Read the whole piece–it’s a rather interesting and well balanced discussion. I’m on the record as being opposed to a system of incarceration, though I will readily admit that for violent offenders I am not sure that there is a better alternative to prison, however much I might loathe it. That said, the sheer number of incarcerations for non-violent offenses in this country is pretty horrible, and I do think that it would be well worth the expenditure in resources to build more workable alternatives to prison for non-violent offenses–restitution, house arrest, community service, other ideas not tried, etc.

(Link via Matthew Yglesias)

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About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    (cough, hack, CHINA! cough)

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    No, China has a much lower number of incarcerated, possibly because they’ve got a much higher execution rate.

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  3. Triumph says:

    The reason we have so many people incarcerated is because of our surplus of liberals.

    The libbies are more prone to crime than the rest of the population–all you have to do is look at the presidential race. The liberalist candidate is also the one who has admitted to committing a possible felony.

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  4. … I will readily admit that for violent offenders I am not sure that there is a better alternative to prison…

    Let us know when you are sure. Are you, like famous NY Times reporter Fox Butterfield, also shocked that crime rates have fallen?

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  5. Alex Knapp says:

    Let us know when you are sure. Are you, like famous NY Times reporter Fox Butterfield, also shocked that crime rates have fallen?

    I have been well aware of declining crime rates for over a decade, now, thanks. But correlation isn’t necessary causation–as the article points out, Canada experienced the same decline in violent crime without increasing its incarceration rate.

    And just because I can’t think of a better alternative to prison doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Prisons are brutal, dehumanizing, disgusting places. I would like to think that there’s a better way to handle violent offenders. However, I am cynical enough to expect that I may well be wrong about that.

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  6. c. lelamd says:

    the problem in america is that many prisons are private corporations and are allowed to lobby for longer and more sentences for crimes that just arent all that serious. we need to investigate the rat bastard polititians who allowed this in the first place. i dont think you will find mamy liberals on the list.

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  7. anjin-san says:

    The prison industry is highly profitable… You don’t have to look a hell of a lot further.

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  8. How many of these “kinder” nations allow such punishments as caning? Dismemberment? Other forms of torture instead of incarceration? In China, the article notes with blind dismissal, many are placed in “administrative detention” which is a nice way of saying forced labor or slavery. The number of Chinese in “administrative detention” was not given. Id’n nat conveeeeenient.

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  9. just me says:

    Also in China their three strikes laws equal the death penalty. Here in the US they equal prison without parole or without parole for a very long time.

    However, I disagree that there is a better alternative to violent offenders I do think prison is over used for non violent offenders, and I think some sentences are ridiculously long.

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  10. glasnost says:

    Prisons make money for the prison industry. They may even supply jobs. But our massive prison population isn’t just a symptom of the slow undermining of our knowledge economy. It’s also a cause.

    Or to put it another way: Europeans provide long-term unemployment: we throw people in jail and provide essentially the same thing in goods and services for prisoners, plus make-work keeping them incarcerated.

    A great example of how ideology clouds the brain. What would happen to the relative unemployment rates of the US and EU if you were to reduce our incarceration rate to theirs?

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  11. DL says:

    Of course being against incarceration for all but the violent offenders is racist and pro-blue callar criminals.

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  12. DL says:

    Horrible as it is, we would be a more moral nation if we just incarcerated the unborn instead of executing them. Everything in Post-modernism is so relative.

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  13. Brian says:

    How many of these “kinder” nations allow such punishments as caning? Dismemberment? Other forms of torture instead of incarceration? In China, the article notes with blind dismissal, many are placed in “administrative detention” which is a nice way of saying forced labor or slavery.

    First, I don’t think that there was any mention that nations who have lower rates of incarceration equals “kinder” per se.

    Second, your list of nations with horrible human rights records and their reprehensible practices isn’t really the point.

    And when will people realize that moral relativism and defensive attitudes don’t actually solve anything. We know China is horrible. Just because we are better does not mean that we are perfect and are not subject to scrutiny.

    The point Alex is making that our prison practices are less than desirable. More to the point, they do nothing to reduce or prevent crime. Period. Crime rates have lessened for a handful of reasons, but other important criminal statistics have worsened or remain unchanged. Like recidivism. Treatment of prisoners have improved, but we still haven’t solved for the prison problem as a whole or extensively developed any viable alternatives.

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  14. Boyd says:

    So you think comparing the US to other countries isn’t a legitimate response to an article…comparing the US to other countries, Brian?

    What an odd position to take.

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  15. Radio Left says:

    Mikes Blog Roundup…

    Crooks and Liars

    at-Largely: John Ashcroft claims Japanese waterboarding is different from American waterboarding.
    Comments from Left Field: Attention Men! Stay out of the Congo
    Outside The Beltway: Land of the free …uh, imprisoned
    Hello, Negr…

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  16. Brian says:

    So you think comparing the US to other countries isn’t a legitimate response to an article…comparing the US to other countries, Brian?

    I don’t have a problem with comparisons, so as long as they are instructive and topical. Retorting that the US is good because China is bad, is illogical. And comments on the conditions of Chinese prisons says nothing about the rates of incarceration in the US and abroad, which is what the post is about.

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  17. joe says:

    This is a serious matter to be looked at not only by policy makers, but by judges, attorneys and law makers. Throwing people in jail for drug offenses and other types of crime aren’t solving the problem. People need to look into the reality of how the legal system works and how it can be improved to help all citizens.

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