Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Factoid: The US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost a quarter of its prisoners

The New York Times story Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’ is a staggering litany of American exceptionalism. A few excerpts:

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. . .

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation . . . China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison [excluding those in administrative detention]. . .

The United States comes in first [in] incarceration rates, [with] 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. [Next]is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. . . . England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63. The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.
The story cites a variety of causes, including higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net, and elected judges.