America – Land of the Free…ah…Incarcerated

Scooter Libby’s predicament and public and painful run through the prosecutorial gauntlet has me thinking about the criminal justice system.  While odds are pretty good that Scooter will have a Presidential pardon and a job at Halliburton before he ever has to do a day of jail time, the other 1 in 32 Americans will not be so lucky. 

That’s right folks – 1 in 32 American adults (over 7 million) are in jail or on probation – while 1 in 136 (2.2 million) Americans are behind bars. In fact, the U.S. imprisons more people than any other country.  Not just in terms of per-capita ratios/percentages but in raw numbers – more than far larger (and not to mention repressive and totalitarian) China and more than India.  The ratio/percentage comparison figures with these countries paint a far worse picture (China and India have quadruple the population of the US).   The incarceration rates are even more alarming when you look at the rates for minorities (3.2% of all African American adults are in prison – and they are 44% of the U.S. prison total). 

Last month, Pew Charitable TrustsPublic Safety Project released a disturbing report on the state of U.S prisons.  Some of the findings: 

  • The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country.  2.2 Million (1.5 million in state/federal prison and 750,000 in county jails). China ranks second with 1.5 million incarcerated.
  • The U.S. leads the world in the incarceration rate (737 prisoners per 100,000 people) – the next-highest is Russia (607 per 100,000)
  • National spending on corrections has jumped from $9 billion in 1980 to more than $60 billion today.
  • The prison population will increase by a further 13% in the next 5 years

My country the one I was always taught to believe was a free and open society imprisons more people per capita than any other regime in modern history except Stalin. How could this fact go largely unnoticed by all but a small charitable trust?  Unnoticed I suppose – unless you happen to be that 1 person in 32.

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