Thursday, August 19, 2004

Fun with statistics

America is bad. You wanna know why? Because it puts so many people in prison: 715 per 100,000 population, the highest incarceration rate in the world.

For every 100,000 people, Sweden imprisons only 75 and Sudan only about 36. That's because they're more enlightened.

Also, America imprisons more people because it's so violent, unlike peaceful and orderly societies like Japan. Or Haiti.

Prison Population Rates per 100,000 of the national population
United States715
Source: International Centre for Prison Studies, Kings College, London

In fact, the current US incarceration rate is a record high. That's because crime is too.[1]
"American prison population surpasses 2 million, the highest incarceration rate in the world", Salt of the Earth: Your online resource for social justice, April 2003.

Violent crime, which is of most concern to people on the street, has fallen to its lowest levels since 1974, when data was first collected nationally.
Unlike in Europe, where people are more civilized.
[O]ver the last 25 years there appears to have been a general increase in crime in all European countries.
Another reason that so many Americans are in prison is that American sentences are so long. That's because Americans are vengeful. Europeans are enlightened, giving convicts shorter sentences so they have less trouble re-entering society.
Laban Tall, "Cash for Good Causes", UK Commentators, 2004 August 11.

In a British prison you never serve your full sentence - that would be too harsh. [Iorworth] Hoare was released early and by November 1975, when he should still have been inside, he was back in court for another attack on a woman.
He had been released early once, only to offend again and be convicted. Surely that would be an end of early release ? But to the probation officers and social workers of the Criminal Justice system he was still capable of redemption, of being reformed. Give him another chance. Sentenced to four years in November 1975, less that THREE years later he was back in court charged with assault and indecent assault - crimes again committed when he should have been in prison. This time he got four years.

We must assume he was let out early and avoided being convicted again until June 1983, almost a year after he should have finished his sentence. This time the charges were rape and indecent assault, the sentence seven years. Naturally he was released early, and only five years after sentence was attempting to rape a retired teacher.

This time the judge had had enough.

"Paramount in my mind is that every moment you are at liberty some woman is at risk and I believe it to be my duty to protect, so far as I am able, women from the risk you represent.

"This is the last in a long line of appalling offences committed against women and the only sentence I can pass is one of imprisonment for life."

Life ? Fifteen years and he's on day release.
[/end sarcasm]
Let's go back to the statistics. Despite an uptick in the past year, US "crime rates remain some of the lowest in a generation". At the same time, the US incarceration rate has reached an all time high, at least four to five times the rate, depending on the country, seen in western Europe, which has seen a general increase in crime over the last 25 years.
Peter Reydt, "Britain: prison overcrowding reaches breaking point", World Socialist Website, 2004 February 26.

Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, the number of prisoners has risen by 24 percent. This is not due to rising crime rates, but to the readiness of the courts to resort to custodial sentencing for even minor crimes. First time burglars are twice as likely to go to jail now as they were eight years ago, whilst the number of adults serving sentences for less than 12 months is up 160 percent since 1999.
The increase has far overstepped all expectations. The projected figures for 2006 now expect the prison population in England and Wales to reach 87,200—9,500 more than planned for.
Such is the scale of overcrowding, that Home Secretary David Blunkett is said to be looking into increasing the use of electronic tagging. Some 3,500 people are currently on Home Detention Curfew.

The government’s criminal policy has been carried out under the banner of “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Committed to a right-wing big business agenda, the government has fulfilled the first pledge, but has done nothing to alleviate the social conditions that cause crime in the first place. Instead its own policies have contributed to the increase in the prison population through the rising levels of social inequality. Many inmates, for example, are in prison for petty offences, such as non-payment of fines, bills, etc. [Sure they are.]

The official attitude towards criminal policy, as with every other area of British social policy, increasingly mirrors that of the United States.
Good for Britain.

In any criminal justice system, the safety of law-abiding citizens is the one priority that should supersede all others. Hell, it’s the very point of society. It’s the reason that the state has a monopoly on violence. We, as citizens, “outsource” self-defense to our police and military so the rest of us don't have to worry about such things and can spend time on things we'd rather be doing and also because they can specialize and take advantage of economies of scale. This doesn’t preclude treating prisoners well, but to do so at the expense of the safety of society at large betrays the very purpose of civilization.
Prison overcrowding has the most devastating impact on the well being of inmates. The annual report for England and Wales for 2002/2003 by the Chief Inspector of Prisons published earlier this year, graphically underscored this. Its main conclusion found that the explosion in prison numbers was directly related to a staggering rate of suicides and self-harm in English and Welsh prisons.
Cry me a f*ckin’ river.

Hey, I’ve got an idea! BUILD MORE PRISONS, BITCH!

Now, before this post completely degenerates into right-wing bilespew, I’m going to point out how capitalism contributes to this state of affairs. Of the countries in western Europe, only Finland (17.1), Iceland (2.9), Norway (14.9) and Sweden (21.8) have population densities lower than the United States’ (32.0) (as measured in persons per square kilometer). Western Europe has an overall population density of 110.2. Of countries with a significant amount of rural territory (i.e. excluding San Marino, at 475.1; Malta, at 1,236.3 and Monaco, at 16,135.0[!]), Britain, at 249.5, is beaten only by Belgium (342.3) and the Netherlands (480.8), which is why God invented Australia. (Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Data Base.)

When land is scarce, homes, offices and factories are gonna come up much higher on the priority list than prisons. I get that. I'm willing to cut western Europe a little slack on account of that.

But this clapped-out old nag of an anti-American high moral horse is long overdue his trip to the glue factory.

I understand that this post doesn't address US drug policy, but this one does.

And on the matter of incarceration and race (via MilkandCookies), consider the words of noted African-American actor Samuel L. Jackson.
Ninety-eight percent of the people in jail belong in jail. The other two percent probably did something somewhere, and it caught up with them. If you live your life a certain kind of way, you don't have to worry about that kind of thing happening. Like with the police, I always gave them respect. Cops have a hard job; I understand that. Of course, some of 'em are kind of screwed up mentally in certain ways....
They deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!

[1]What the f*ck happened to Finland?