I am increasingly concerned about the U.S incarceration rate. I just gathered the following statistics: our country has 2.3 million people in jail. That’s 698 per 100,000. Compare that to the ratio per 100,000 of the UK and Canada:, 139 and 114 respectively. Less than 5 percent of the world’s population is in the United States, but 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated people are here. Put differently, one out of every five prisoners in the world is in the U.S. Close to six million children in America have experienced losing a parent to incarceration. And many in jail have never been convicted of anything. To regain their freedom, they are required to pay a fee or fine, and they have no money. One of the reasons they have no money is that they have lost their jobs because they are in jail.
Why does this situation prevail in the land of the free? One reason is the U.S. devotion to “law and order,” as currently being pursued by President Trump. And yet incarceration rates have no demonstrated effect on violent crime and in some instances may increase crime. As one study concluded, “between 75 and 100 percent of the drop in crime rates since the 1990s is explained by other factors, including the aging population, increased wages, increased employment, increased graduation rates, increased consumer confidence, increased law enforcement personnel, and changes in policing strategies.”
In other words, the most important factor in crime reduction is increased prosperity. I conclude that the biggest impetus for crime is poverty.
The available evidence suggests to me that our motivation in sending so many people to prison is not to discourage crime put to wreak vengeance. When will we learn that our thirst for punishing wrongdoers is making things worse?