The U.S. Incarceration Rate

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?

2 thoughts on “The U.S. Incarceration Rate”

  1. Reforms to the legal and correctional systems must be pursued. Too many young men are being incarcerated, and once in prison they are often hardened by exposure to evil and twisted felons. There they are also prey to purveyors of hate and alien political philosophies. Thus, the prison becomes a veritable academy for crime, riots, and revolution. The recidivism rate is atrocious.
    We must insist on alternative sentencing whenever feasible and effective. Very few non-violent prisoners need be incarcerated. Instead, they should be compelled to recompense their victims. Only when that fails should they be sent to jail.
    Also, extreme care must be exercised to segregate prisoners based on their age, gender, nature of their crime, physical strength, sexual orientation, and propensity for violence. To achieve this, our present places of incarceration may be effectually divided into separate areas of control or replaced by smaller, more numerous, specialized facilities. The most vicious felons must be rigorously separated from the general prison population.
    Custodial care of prison inmates should be considered a high calling. Those who do this work should be well trained and equitably compensated. There would be significant costs associated with such changes, but the benefits to society could be enormous.

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  2. We see the issue the same way, Sandy. To me, it’s exacerbated by the incarceration of a fellow Vietnam vet who, like me, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). He wrote to me after he read one of my books. That was three years ago. We’ve been corresponding ever since. My heart goes out to him for all he has been through.

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