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anti-racism | drug war | prisons & prisoners

USA prison population largest in world

With a record-setting 2 million people now locked up in American jails and prisons, the United States has overtaken Russia and has a higher percentage of its citizens behind bars than any other country.
Those are the latest dreary milestones resulting from a two-decade imprisonment boom that experts say has probably helped reduce crime but also has created ballooning costs and stark racial inequities.

"Why, in the land of the free, should 2 million men, women and children be locked up?" asks Andrew Coyle, director of the International Centre for Prison Studies at the University of London and a leading authority on incarceration.

The latest statistics support that view. The new high of 2,019,234, announced by the Justice Department in April, underscores the extraordinary scale of American imprisonment compared to most of the world.

During the 1990s, the United States and Russia -- a far poorer country emerging from totalitarian rule and beset by official corruption and organized crime -- vied for the dubious position of the highest incarceration rate on the planet.

But in the last few years, Russian authorities have carried out large-scale amnesties to ease overcrowding in disease-infested prisons, and the United States has emerged unchallenged into first place, at 702 prisoners per 100,000 population. Russia now has 665 prisoners per 100,000.

United States imprisons at a far greater rate than developed Western nations and many impoverished and authoritarian countries. On a per capita basis, according to the best available figures, the United States has three times more prisoners than Iran, four times more than Poland, five times more than Tanzania and seven times more than Germany.

Bruce Western, a sociologist at Princeton University, says sentencing policies have had a glaringly disproportionate impact on black men. The Justice Department reports that one in eight black men in their 20s and early 30s were behind bars last year, compared with 1 in 63 white men. The chance of a black man going to prison in his lifetime is one in three, the department says.

For black male high school dropouts, Western says, the numbers are still worse: 41 percent of black dropouts between 22 and 30 were locked up in 1999. "I think this is one of the most important developments in race relations in the last 30 years," he says.

A major cause is the war on drugs. In 1980, says Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project in Washington, about 40,000 Americans were locked up for drugs-only offenses. Now the number is 450,000, three-fourths of them black or Latino, though drug use is no higher in those groups than among whites.


Protection 25.Jun.2003 22:33


Think of it this way. The bad guys are being kept off the streets to protect the minorities because sad to say black on black crime must be 10 times higher than black on white crime. But hey somebody got to supply the whities their drugs eh?

Actually... 25.Jun.2003 22:38

Ed Harley

The worst criminals of all are not in prison, but in the "White" House, in the U.S. Congress, in the Pentagon, in the U.S. "Justice" Department, and in the upper echelon of the global military-industrial-capitalist class. Too bad that, with 2 million locked up, all the real criminals are still roaming the halls of power, and hanging out in country clubs around the world.

how about protection from corporate crime? 26.Jun.2003 12:55

tired of being robbed and poisoned

Yes, but white on white (and white on non-white for that matter) crime dwarfs everything else, unless you ignore corporate crime, like our "justice" system does.

Sweden has a Dramatically Lower Rate 13.Dec.2003 10:21

Thomas Beeler tebeeler@comcast.net

Swedish Prisons - The Inside Story - -

Following is the text of a posting on the walls of the now-closed Langholmen prison in Stockholm. The prison is now used as a conference center and provides comfortable but unique accommodations. (www.langholmen.com or www.langholmen.se)

"Crime is an act for which a punishment as stated below is provided by this Code or by other codes or laws." This obviously correct, albeit perhaps somewhat clumsy statement opens the Swedish Penal Code.

Incarceration should preferably be avoided. This is the prevailing view in the modern Swedish penal system. Nonetheless, some 12,000 people are imprisoned every year.

Of these, roughly 3,500 serve their sentences under electronic surveillance, i.e., by means of electronic tags (ankle monitors), while the remainder -- 8,500 -- are sent to prison. (note:. This prepresents 1.05 persons per thousand of population.) Five per cent are women, and just over 25% are foreign citizens.

Every year, more than a million crimes are committed. Seven out of ten are cases of larceny -- theft, robbery, or shoplifting.

One crime in ten involves damage to property, and one in twenty assault.

Approximately 2,500 perpetrators of violent crimes, a thousand swindlers and roughly the same number of drug criminals go to prison each year. On any given day, 5,000 people are in prison and detention in Sweden on average.

The Swedish penal system includes:

* The National Prison and Probation Administration's head office in Norrköping and five regional offices.
* 37 prison and probation authorities with 27 remand prisons, accommodating a total of 1,500 people.
* 55 prisons (correctional facilities) with a total of 4,300 places.

The National Prison and Probation Service has roughly 8,000 employees, of whom 42% are women. The annual cost is some 4,000 million. (Kroner, I assume. About 7.1 kroner equals one US dollar)

More information is available on the National Prison and Probation Service's website, www.kvv.se.

17868 40th Ave NE, Lake Forest Park, WA 98155

Too Much Talk 04.Jan.2004 06:58

Tramaine P. Dubuclet btchbetahavmad0@blackplanet.com

The boston tea party happened because of taxes. Taxes. With all the things that go on today that so called americans allow to happen, who cares what any of us say if there is no action.

Nope, you cannot blame it on taxes- 09.Mar.2004 09:12

Jakob A

Swedish taxes are 4 to 10 times as high as US taxes. So if you want to claim taxes as a causative in the amount of crime it would need to be an inverse relation. With more taxes giving LESS crime.

Personally I do not think the two are related at all.