Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Land of the free? You judge.

Andrew Sullivan’s blog mentioned a new report on world prison rates so I went to download it. It is rather shocking. More than any other nation on the planet the United States has a tendency to lock people up. There are some 9 million in the world in prison and just three nations make up almost have of them: the US, China and Russia. The US has approximately 5% of the world’s population but 23% of the world’s prisoners.

The US incarcerates 714 people for every 100,000 of the population. Next on the list would be dictatorships like Belarus and Russia which incarcerate 532 per 100,000. Castro’s dictatorship incarcerates 487 per 100,000 in comparison.

Here are a few nations to give you some idea as to how the US compares to other nations.

United States 714
Zimbabwe 155
South Africa 413
Canada 116
Mexico 182
Venezuela 83
Saudi Arabia 110
India 29
Iran 194
Malaysia 174
China 118
England 142
Ireland 85
Italy 98
Spain 140
France 91
Germany 96
Netherlands 123
Australia 117
New Zealand 168

In previous posts I lamented that the Republic of Texas joined the United States giving us bad politicians and executing almost five times as many people as the rest of the country. With 7.5% of the US population they are responsible for over a third of all executions in the US. Sullivan also notes: “There's no country on the planet - no dictatorship on earth - as comfortable with locking people up as the state of Texas.”

Much of this dramatic increase in incarcerations is due to the war on drugs. If you go back to the “wild” 1960s you will find that the US was incarcerating about 145 people per 100,000. By the late 1970s it was still around 200 per 100,000. By the end of Reagan’s first term in office it had jumped to 288, by the end of his second term it was 388 per 100,000. And since then it has more than doubled again. Since Nixon declared his war on drugs the incarceration rates in the US have quintupled and there is no difficulty in find illegal drugs.

Take this quote from PBS as an example: “ What is certain is that drug sentencing laws and drug eradication policies have had a critical role in the growth of the prison population. In 1980 the incarceration rate for drug offenses was 15 inmates per 100,000 adults ; by 1996, it was 148 inmates per 100,000 adults. The figures for federal prison are even more stark. In 1970, 16.3 percent of all federal inmates were imprisoned on drug-related charges; in 2002 that percentage had risen to 54.7 percent.”

It’s time to end the madness.