Monday, July 02, 2007

Prison State

Via blogger Bean at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, I see that the United States' prison population grew by 62,000, or 2.8 percent, from 2005 to 2006 to reach about 2,245,000 total inmates, by far the largest incarcerated population in the world. Reuters has more.

That's not just the highest rate. That's the highest absolute number of inmates. The King's College-based International Centre for Prison Studies has a comparative table. The United States, a nation of 300 million, has, as noted above, a prison population of 2.245 million, or one prisoner for every 133 citizens. That's a prison rate of 751 (for every 100,000 citizens). China, the number two incarcerator, has 1,548,498 prisoners out of a population of 1.319 billion, or one prisoner for every 851 citizens. (Prison rate = 118) China has 700 prisons and 340 "re-education camps." Of these, it is known that the camps are at 87% capacity. The U.S. has 5,069 total institutions and is at 107.6% capacity.

The Department of Justice has more alarming statistics here. In 2005 there were 3,145 black male inmates per 100,000 black males, as opposed to 471 white male inmates per 100,000. In 2003 52% of inmates were incarcerated for violent crime, with the remaining 48% split between property charges, drugs, and public order. A full 20% of people in prison were there for drug charges.

For a slightly unfair but still telling comparison, according to Wikipedia (I welcome a more trustworthy source here) the Soviet Gulag had about 2.5 million people imprisoned in labor camps by the early 1950s. Historian Kate Brown says that the total number of people sent through the camps over several decades was about 3.7 million. (Of course the Gulag system was much more deadly, had far worse conditions, and many/most of the prisoners there had been convicted through completely sham means. But still--they're freakin' equal numbers, folks.)

Of course, our dear President and his ilk being complete right-wing nut jobs, he wants to re-impose mandatory minimum jail time for almost all criminals, which the 2005 Supreme Court decision U.S. v. Booker found unconstitutional. Would the current Court uphold such a policy? (That's a joke.)

I'd be interested to know how the U.S. numbers reflect police efficiency as compared with other nations as well as how high U.S. crime rates are, comparatively. In any case, it's bitter food for thought for Fourth of July season.

3 Comments:

Blogger The Sheriff said...

I think it's time to play a round of "Who hates freedom more"

9:05 AM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

In this vein see: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/04/washington/04commute.html?hp

11:54 AM  
Blogger John Liberty said...

scantron, i think you should start converting your posts to article format and submitting them to publications.

2:57 PM  

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