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November 17, 2006

The realities of mass US incarceration

In a few hours, I will be heading off to Boston to participate in a weekend workshop at Harvard Law School entitled "Making Sense of Miscarriages of Justice."  I will be talking about what I have called, in the title of my draft paper, "The Problem of Over-Punishment." 

Fittingly, as I gear up for my trip, I found (thanks to this post at Corrections Community) a new  intriguing Fact Sheet from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency that compares United States incarceration rates with those of other countries around the world.  Here are highlights (or should I say lowlights) from the fact sheet:

And we are supposedly a country founded on freedom?  We may talk the talk about liberty, be we certainly do not walk the walk in the way we approach and apply our criminal justice system.

November 17, 2006 at 07:40 AM | Permalink


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It would be nice, with your respect in the sentencing world, to see you distribute these statistics to the legislatures and judiciary in order that they may have a perspective on their actions.

Posted by: Mike | Nov 17, 2006 11:13:29 AM

Disclaimer: The following question is not intended to imply support for the U.S. rate of incarceration.

Do we know if the study accounted for nations with capital punishment in comparing numbers? The obvious implication of the report is the harshness of the U.S. penal system (granted), but I would find it more 'persuasive' if the report disclosed China's annual execution rate per 100,000 citizens to give context to its 118 incarcerations per 100,000 citizens. If the U.S. imprisons an offender that Saudia Arabia would execute, I don't think we can argue that Saudia Arabia is more merciful.

Posted by: | Nov 17, 2006 11:33:47 AM

Even if crime rates don't account for incarceration rates, how does crime detection factor in? Maybe the statistics still bear out your argument, but it'd be interesting to see the result of a thorough regression analysis on the data. I also wonder whether more stringent laws (not just higher sentences) accounts for some of the disparity.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 17, 2006 11:36:30 AM

Any chance we will be allowed to read "The Problem of Over-Punishment"?

Posted by: George | Nov 17, 2006 4:32:31 PM

The sentences given to recent white collar felons are not too harsh. White collar crime while not a violent crime can be more brutal to society in its consequences. White collar crime inflicts a collective harm on society far beyond the companies affected.

White collar crime adversely affects the integrity and reliability of financial information which is the main pillar of our great capitalist free market economic system. When the financial markets lose faith in the integrity and reliability of financial information the costs of capital and debt increases and the collective market capitalization of all companies are adversely affected. As a result our national wealth is diminished and pensions, 401 k plans, and life insurance policies lose value. The collective reduction of wealth further erodes tax collections to our government.

Employees lose their jobs and are often faced with the future stigma of having worked for a company affected by massive fraud. Creditors do not get paid and often must lay off employees.

The long prison sentences often given to white collar criminals while serving the purpose of imposing responsibility and accountability for felons does not materially prevent white collar crime. No crimes in progress are stopped and no current criminals find morality after learning about the long sentences given to convicted felons.

To prevent and reduce white collar crime we require strong legislation like Sarbanes-Oxley and strong internal controls reviewed by adequately educated, trained, experienced, and skilled independent external auditors. Companies require effective oversight from independent audit committees composed of members adequately suited to perform their responsibilities and not members who are appointed for “window dressing” purposes. Such audit committee members must not be permitted to hold stock or stock options in companies where they serve on such audit committees. We must require strengthened standards of education and capabilities of those board members who are permitted to serve on audit committees.

Our society is coming to the realization of the collective harshness of white collar crime in the long prison sentences imposed on convicted felons. It must now take appropriate steps to prevent white collar crime from happening. We must eliminate the opportunity to commit white collar crime.


Sam E. Antar

Posted by: Sam E. Antar (former Crazy Eddie CFO & ex-felon) | Nov 17, 2006 5:41:55 PM

Could it be explained by the federal and state conspiracy to persecute people of addections rather than rehabilitate them?

Posted by: James Strahan | Nov 18, 2006 12:10:31 AM

James Strahan:

I believe that the current policy of putting drug addicts in jail rather than rehabilitating them is based on the lack of understanding that drug addiction is a disease.

Only recently has the medical establishment trained Doctors to be "addiction specialists."

I agree with you that many drug addicts (those addicts who do not resort to other criminal acts such as stealing) are treated like criminals.

An appropriate approach for such addicts would be to rehabilitate them.

Hopefully, society's perception of drug addiction will take into account the science of addiction and rehabilitate those addicts who do not resort to other criminal offenses.


Sam E. Antar

Posted by: Sam E. Antar (Crazy Eddie CFO & ex-felon) | Nov 18, 2006 6:46:21 AM

Sam E. Antar:

Criminal acts by drug addicts are a direct result of the drug addiction and should be treated with rehabilitation also. I believe that all drug addicts have to be locked up for a period of time to let the drugs clear out of their body; It sometime takes as long as a year for that to occur. That clearing time should be served prior to allowing them in a rehabilitation program

I agree with you that they should not be able to get away with the crime but should be give some consideration for the addiction if they want help to be rehabilitated. This is a difficult question and probably should be handled on a case by case basis.


James Strahan

Posted by: | Nov 18, 2006 10:42:31 PM

James Strahan:

I agree with all your points. The problem of drug addiction and crime is very complicated.

Most addicts have co-morbid conditions - they suffer from mental illness which is often not treated simultaneously with the addiction. Often addicts are in affect “self-medicating” themselves in attempting to deal with untreated co-morbid issues. Therefore, we need to treat both issues at the same time.

The problem is that most addicts resist help and when they get help there is a large proportion of relapse (partially because co-morbid conditions are not treated).

I agree that forced treatment (even if it requires a "lock down facility") is required for all addicts. It often takes a full 2 year "clean period" to give the addict a fighting chance against relapse.

We must not make it easy for them to resist treatment. It is difficult to force any addict over 18 years old into treatment and that must change. We must strengthen laws that enable society to force treatment on addicts before a crime is committed. Too many addicts only get treatment after they commit and crime and are arrested.

The problem arises when an addict commits a crime before, during, or after treatment. I agree as you say that each case must be handled on a case-by-case basis. You are correct that some consideration be given to the addiction as a mitigating factor.

However, when you see some of the crimes committed by addicts (such as murder) it is hard to consider any mitigating factors and I am sure there is no debate on that issue. Depending on the nature of the crime they may require any combination of “lock down” psychiatric treatment to straight prison time (which includes rehabilitation).

I would suggest that we have specialized courts to deal with drug related crimes and require judges to be educated about addiction science and the complicated issues involving addicts (such as co-morbid conditions).

We require a deterrent based approach to crime. The forced treatment of all addicts would prevent many crimes from ever happening and reduce crimes cost to society. For those who believe that mandatory “lock down” psychiatric treatment for most addicts is a “slap on the wrist” be assured that in many ways it is a fate worse than prison for them as they receive the help necessary for them to prevent crimes in the future.


Sam E. Antar

Posted by: Sam E. Antar (Crazy Eddie CFO & ex-felon) | Nov 19, 2006 1:29:28 PM

Sam E. Antar:

Well said, I can't improve on anything you said.


James Strahan

Posted by: James Strahan | Nov 19, 2006 6:20:05 PM

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