Incarceration in the U.S.

I have written here before about the U.S. leading the world in the number of firearms in the hands of the civilian population and the number of citizens killed every year by gunfire. We have 20 percent more guns than people, and so far this year we have killed by gunfire almost 44,000, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Equally shocking and almost certainly related is the number of people we put in jail. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world and the largest number of prisoners, roughly 2.12 million.

My research was unable to determine why we have such high incarceration rates, but several factors are obviously important. First, unlike many other countries, we punish almost all crime with jail time. Second, we punish drug offenses with prison, accounting for the incarceration of almost half a million people. Police still make over 1 million drug possession arrests each year, many of which lead to prison sentences. A persuasive argument could be made that people using drugs should be treated medically rather than imprisoned.

What I find strange is that we Americans accept both our death rate from guns and our millions in jail as being ordinary. We do nothing to lower the number of guns in the hands of civilians and make no effort to reduce the numbers incarcerated. Because we are the leading nation of the world, we fail to learn from the example of others.

It is long since time that we took a hard look at ourselves and moved to correct some of our failings.

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