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September 20, 2010

"America, Land of the Imprisoned"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable commentary from a site called "The Libertarian Solution."  Here is how it starts:

The United States has one of the most the most expansive, punitive and expensive criminal justice systems in the world.  Although Americans account for only five percent of the world’s population, imprisoned U.S. citizens account for 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.  The median incarceration rate worldwide is roughly one-sixth of the American incarceration rate.

A full one percent of the American adult population is behind bars. Including those on parole or probation increases this figure to over three percent.  The U.S. incarcerates a far greater number of people than China, whose population is four times the size of ours.  As a percentage of population, we imprison five times more people than Britain and 12 times more than Japan.

The United States’ approach to criminal justice has not always been so punitive. Alexis de Tocqueville remarked in the early 19th century that “[i]n no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States.”  But with the tough-on-crime approach and the exploding drug war in the second half of the 20th century, incarceration rates have rapidly escalated.

Two main factors contribute to America’s ballooning prison population: excessive mandatory minimum sentencing laws and paternalistic and overreaching legislation.

September 20, 2010 at 08:28 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Third factor: lawyer rent seeking.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 20, 2010 9:39:49 AM

US House seems on it, with a hearing September 28:

http://nacdl.org/overcrimhearing

The lawyer gotcha is the same business scheme as that of the Inquisition. It went after people with assets, in contrast to what is taught in high school. "You blasphemed by eating meat on Friday. You will be going to the stake. You may be spared that by forfeiting your estates to the church." That scam ended only after 10,000 church officials were beheaded or expelled in the French Revolution.

There are millions of rules, far more than in the Inquisition. No one can obey them all, not even editorial writers of the Federal Register. Most are worthless, unproven, confiscatory, left wing nonsense. Much of it is hate speech and wacky theory. These represent crimes against humanity in being unauthorized, incompetent, human experimentation, whatever their legal authority.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 20, 2010 9:51:02 AM

Third factor: people committing serious crimes.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 20, 2010 11:58:16 AM

Right, because people in other countries don't commit serious crimes. Must be part of that American Exceptionalism we are always hearing about.

Posted by: Ala JD | Sep 20, 2010 1:24:48 PM

The United States previously had a significantly higher rate of crime than European countries generally, but that has changed over the years as we toughened up and they did not.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 20, 2010 1:58:25 PM

The comparison of prison populations between countries is a rather complex problem and the best qualified source is
Roy Walmsley the person who collects the international prison population data and posts reports from time to time at

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r188.pdf

Some countries will not provide any data and others only provide data only for sentenced prisoners (most or all jail inmates are not included). Some countries (such as China) incarcerate persons that are not charged with a crime and for obvious reasons Walmsley does not include them in the few cases where he knows their number.

There are 50 state, one federal system and about six territorial criminal justice systems that have the same functions but differ greatly in sentencing policies and practices. Jail hold about 33% of the prisoners and there are about 3,000 counties and the majority have jails (I doubt that anyone in a jail is serving a mandatory minimum sentence).

I live in Iowa and 19% of the Iowa prison inmates are serving a mandatory minimum sentence with another 8% serving a life sentence. The distribution of prisoner intake dates shows that about 60% entered within the past three years so prison crowding is caused by persons (most are returnees) serving relatively short sentences for a wide variety of offense types or parole/probation violations.

It is possible that one of the reasons the prison population growth has slowed is that the various legislatures are not as active at converting legal behavior into criminal behavior. All it would take to change that is to make smoking in a public place a crime.

Posted by: John Neff | Sep 20, 2010 3:48:21 PM

Kent, if that is the magic bullet, then how do you explain Canada's much lower crime rate despite being soft on crime?

Posted by: George | Sep 20, 2010 3:52:26 PM

“There are only two possibilities here. Either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States, or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.”
Senator Jim Webb

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Sep 20, 2010 4:55:59 PM

John Neff --

"All it would take to change that is to make smoking in a public place a crime."

Stay tuned. To the present administration, there are few areas of life that are not ripe for the government's heavy hand.

I am not a Tea Partier, but more and more I can see where they're coming from.

And no, this does not mean that I'm going to change my position that someone who sells meth to a 15 year-old deserves a long stetch in the slammer. The fact that government can go too far, as this one does, hardly means that we should have none at all.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 20, 2010 5:09:51 PM

well SC i couldn't agree with this more!

"There are millions of rules, far more than in the Inquisition. No one can obey them all, not even editorial writers of the Federal Register. Most are worthless, unproven, confiscatory, left wing nonsense. Much of it is hate speech and wacky theory. These represent crimes against humanity in being unauthorized, incompetent, human experimentation, whatever their legal authority."

The way it's setup now in america EVERYONE is a criminal! just uncaught for the moment! once the govt wants you or something you have and they start looking they WILL find something ....

when congress votes on a bill they have seen only for a few hrs or a day and the bill is 1,000's of pages long there is NO WAY they have a clue what's in it.

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 20, 2010 6:22:34 PM

George: Simple. Canada has a million blacks or 2.5% of the population. We have 40 million, or 12% of the population. The lawyer hierarchy has sided with the black criminal, and not with the black crime victim. Thus, there is little or no protection for the victim of black criminals.

The other factor is that the rates are based on police reports. Report a crime in Canada, and they throw the report in the trash. There is a lot more crime than official reports show.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 20, 2010 10:25:50 PM

SC --

You are often a bit outlandish for me, but your singular virtue is that you are willing to speak some true things that it's unpopular to say.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 20, 2010 11:17:15 PM

Bill: Black crimes rates in the 1950's were slightly elevated compared to white rates, possibly explained by having more young people. The black family had survived so much extreme stress in history. Yet, it did not survive the onslaught by the lawyer in the 1960's. The rate of antisocial personality disorder is the same across races. The rate of substance abuse is slightly lower in blacks, today. Were people aware that blacks are less addicted than whites? The racial disparity of crime victimization came with the destruction of the black family. Before whites feel smug, the lawyer is coming after the white family, and everything that has happened to black folks will happen to whites.

Why destroy the family of anyone? If the family is destroyed, massive government make work has to take its place. Government is a wholly owned subsidiary of the CCE.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 21, 2010 7:29:39 AM

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