america – world leader in draconian incarceration

The United States is the world leader on incarceration. Some facts and figures are here. Relevant Economist magazine article here.

NY Times article on the subject.

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners….

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia… The others have much lower rates….

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

Nothing that hasn’t been stated before. America imprisons a lot of people. One could argue that mass incarceration has been the driving factor behind the reduction of crime since the mid 1990s. However, Canada has a less draconian incarceration policy, and yet has experienced the same decline in crime. This implies that we could soften harsh penalties, namely on non-violent offenders, without a subsequent rise in crime.

It should be noted here with a certain cynical irony that the reason for America’s harsh penalties are in part due to democracy. Politicians are rewarded for being “tough on crime.” In many areas of the US, judges are elected (this includes in North Carolina, where I reside). This means that the quality and motivations of our judges more closely match those of our politicians.

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