We’re No. 1! We’re number one! (In incarceration rate)


Let’s see if I can get this gif to work. There’s supposed to be a tumbleweed blowing across the barren crossroad. It’s meant to illustrate this point: “this is what it looks like when you take all of the countries that jail more people than we do and put them into one GIF.”

In other words, nobody exceeds the US of A in this important statistic. And among your more-or-less advanced sort of nations, the OECD nations, No. 2 Israel is way, way behind us.

A list like this is totally unfair to us, of course. It ignores the special problems we have. For instance these other countries don’t have as many poor, black males as… Oh, wait. That doesn’t make us sound any better, does it?

On a brighter note, it seems that among the United Prisons of America, South Carolina is only at No. 9, way behind Louisiana, which has more than triple our rate.

Of course, last time I heard, we had the dubious distinction of spending less per prisoner than any other state — meaning less on security, less on rehabilitation, etc. I was unable to determine in a quick search whether that was still true…

11 thoughts on “We’re No. 1! We’re number one! (In incarceration rate)

  1. Doug Ross

    Prisons are a big business.

    The only people who should be in prison are people who commit violent acts or steal large sums of money. Nobody should ever go to jail for drugs, prostitution, or gambling.

    1. Brad Warthen

      I’m not even sure about the large sums of money. Seems like restitution would be better.

      Armed robbery — which involves the threat of violence — should be included.

      1. Doug Ross

        Bernie Madoff belongs in prison. He would never be able to pay back all he stole. Same goes for the low level government employee embezzlers who take hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions. If you get to that level, you deserve jail time… but I would also segregate violent inmates from white collar criminals. Violent inmates deserve solitary confinement.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, if the amount’s so much that you can’t repay, then prison may be the only way. But if it’s possible for you to be out there working and earning the money to pay people back, that seems preferable to the taxpayers footing the bill for your room and board.

          I think I agree with you that “Violent inmates deserve solitary confinement,” in the sense that if they’re violent in prison, they need to be separated. But I don’t think someone who committed a violent act outside should spend his whole sentence in solitary. Rehabilitation is an uphill climb anyway; I don’t think it’s even possible if a person is kept from interacting with others.

    2. bud

      If we started jailing all the plutocrats for stealing large sums of money we’d put a lot of folks to work building prisons.

      End the drug war, the gambling war, the war against prostitutes and the incarceration rate drops by about 2/3.

    3. Juan Caruso

      “Nobody should ever go to jail for drugs, prostitution, or gambling.” – D. Ross

      I agree with you, Doug. However, the concept exposes major problems for some industries:

      1. Defense attorneys will have to replace their court-appointed fees in more demanding areas.

      2. Many convicted organized crime figures serving prison sentences will have a new basis for appeals.

      Come to think of it, #2 could probably be the answer to the lawyer’s plight in #1. What say, Bryan?

      1. Doug Ross

        It’s very difficult for organized crime to control drugs, gambling, and prostitution without crossing the line over into violence.

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