Land of the free

by Chris Bertram on November 3, 2005

I don’t often just reproduce someone else’s post verbatim, but I just surfed over to the Virtual Stoa where Chris has the following from the US Department of Justice

ALMOST 7 MILLION ADULTS UNDER CORRECTIONAL SUPERVISION BEHIND BARS OR ON PROBATION OR PAROLE IN THE COMMUNITY
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The number of adults in prison, jail, or on probation or parole reached almost 7 million during 2004, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The number has grown by more than 1.6 million adults under correctional authority control since 1995.
The nation’s total correctional population was 6,996,500 in 2004, of which 4,151,125 were living in the community on probation; 1,421,911 were in a state or federal prison; 765,355 were living in the community on parole; and 713,990 were in jail, according to the BJS report on probation and parole. At year-end one in every 31 adults were under correctional supervision, which was 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population…

As Chris says, wow.

Surfing over to Nationmaster —which uses the stats for 2003 and so has slightly fewer actual prisoners—I see that the US also has the highest absolute number of prisoners in the world (more than China!) , and the highest number per capita (715 per 100k). For comparison, the higher number per capita in the EU is 210 per 100k (Poland) and 144 for “older” Europe (Spain). For some reason the UK isn’t listed, but I think the figure works out at about 125.

{ 132 comments }

1

Ray 11.03.05 at 7:52 am

Talk about your lack of social mobility…

2

chris y 11.03.05 at 8:06 am

Dear Americans,

We regret to inform you that your country appears to be broken. If you are seeking to acquire a replacement, we suggest you try eBay before visiting the accredited dealers, as a bargain is often to be had…

This is just so damn sad there are no words for it. Life, Liberty and what was it? Your huddled masses yearning to do what?

3

Maria 11.03.05 at 8:14 am

I’ve heard from economists that the high US rate of incarceration – apart from being an indicator of low social cohesion – knocks the unemployment rate down by about a percent on what it might be if US incarceration rates were in line with other democracies. And that’s before you even start to look at the racial breakdown of the figures.

4

Jason Kuznicki 11.03.05 at 8:16 am

And people scratch their heads about why inner-city marriages are disappearing. And then they blame the gays.

Perfect sense to me.

5

Steven Crane 11.03.05 at 8:32 am

I think we all have the War On Some Drugs to thank for these numbers.

6

Joshua W. Burton 11.03.05 at 8:41 am

This in itself is not new. Our worldwide incarceration rank began to climb sharply more than 15 years ago, when Russia and South Africa suddenly stopped trying.

Tripling the prison population in half a generation is like raising sharply in poker: sometimes the opponent folds, but if he doesn’t, you’re left with far less room to maneuver. This isn’t about basic morality (the specific exemption in the 13th Amendment absolves us from seeing incarceration as the fundamental evil it is) but about tactics. There is a line a culture or a subculture can cross beyond which prison time becomes a badge of honor, or at least of street cred; the US is flirting with that invisible line.

That the prison population and the violent crime rate have both been rising for the last few years suggests that we may already have crossed it.

7

abb1 11.03.05 at 8:45 am

…knocks the unemployment rate down by about a percent…

And what about elections?

As many as 31 percent of African-American men in Florida were barred Tuesday from casting a vote under a mid-19th century law that disenfranchises convicted felons. Nationwide 1.4 million African-American men, and 4.2 million Americans in all, are prohibited from voting based on similar laws, many of which date to the late 1860s shortly after former slaves were given the right to vote.

Overall in Florida, about 500,000 ex-felons — 5 percent of the total voting population — can not vote. Considering the slim voting difference of less than 2,000 between the Texas Governor and Vice President Al Gore, the impact 500,000 extra voters, including a disproportionate number of African-Americans, could have had on the final vote is substantial.

8

PersonFromPorlock 11.03.05 at 8:59 am

Is this necessarily bad? The alternative to punishment of the guilty is proactive laws that treat everyone as though they would be criminals, given the chance.

9

Steven Crane 11.03.05 at 9:03 am

Perhaps, personfromporlock, there are far too many things for people to be guilty OF, and that one segment of the “guilty” population winds up in jail a heck of a lot more than the other.

10

abb1 11.03.05 at 9:10 am

There are far too many things for some people to be guilty OF, and not nearly enough for some other people.

11

Matt 11.03.05 at 9:22 am

My understanding is that a _very_ large amount of this is due to the “war on drugs”. More reasonable drug laws would go a long way to improving this. I think the US is still pretty closely matched w/ Russia on incarceration rates, so maybe we can take some small solice in that!

12

Michael Kremer 11.03.05 at 9:24 am

This is not a North American phenomenon — Canada has a ratio of prisoners to 100,000 population of 116 (15% of the US rate, roughly, and comparable to many European countries).

On Nationmaster (fascinating site) you can also find prisoners/$GDP. I wonder what that statistic signifies, if anything?

13

stormy 11.03.05 at 9:42 am

Personfromporlock,

Would you argue that our system is just more efficient in finding criminals, that in Canada or Europe, apprehension and conviction are simply flabby?

Or are there other reasons?

14

Cryptic Ned 11.03.05 at 9:49 am

#1 in the WORLD in per capita incarceration?

I thought we were behind North Korea, at least.

15

Kieran Healy 11.03.05 at 10:03 am

I’ve posted about this a few times in the past. Bruce Western and his collaborators give the best quantiative analyses of the sociology of the penal system. Some recent estimates from them show that among black men born between 1965 and 1969, 30.2 percent (almost a third!) of those who didn’t attend college had gone to prison by 1999. A startling 58.9 percent of black high school dropouts born from 1965 through 1969 had served some time in state or federal prison by their early 30s. For black men in their mid-thirties at the end of the 1990s, prison records were nearly twice as common as bachelor’s degrees. The expansion of the penal system since the early 1980s has indeed been remarkable, and so has the intense concentration of this expansion in the population of unskilled black men.

16

amy 11.03.05 at 10:38 am

What about these people who go to jail and learn nothing more than how to commit more crimes. Non violent drug offenders need not be incarcerated, they are in jail breaking laws in place for no ones benefit but major drug manufacturers. People have served more jail time for lsd and weed than some child molesters, where is the justice?

17

Dan 11.03.05 at 10:58 am

Here is some state-by-state information on the laws for felony disenfranchisement and the percentage of people who are denied the right to vote (including rates for African-Americans). It features a nifty map, though the information is a few years old. Several states including Iowa and Nebraska have made their laws less harsh in the interim. Here is the web page of the Rhode Island Right to Vote campaign, one of the efforts currently underway to at least change the voting laws. They have succeeded in getting a referendum on the ballot for November 2006 that would restore voting rights to everyone on probation and parole, and are trying to build support for it within the state. Of course, the voting issue is in a way tangential to the real problem. Here is a good book on America’s overuse of the prison system, though it was published several years ago.

18

Slocum 11.03.05 at 11:35 am

Would you argue that our system is just more efficient in finding criminals, that in Canada or Europe, apprehension and conviction are simply flabby?

If we’re going to compare to European countries, we might take into account what’s been happening in the suburbs of Paris during the past week.

Now that’s a bit of a cheap shot — I’m not saying that ‘flabby’ law enforcement is the main cause of what’s happening. But surely it’s not completely irrelevant, either. And France does not seem to be the only EU country with ethnic urban ‘no go’ areas.

I agree that the incarceration of non violent drug offenders in the U.S. is stupid, stupid, stupid, but overall the U.S. seems to be feel less ‘broken’ to Americans than the EU does to Europeans:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20050727-112657-6406r.htm

Yeah, yeah, it’s the Washington Times — but they didn’t do the polling, and the differences in current satisfaction and optimism for future are pretty striking.

19

jake madison 11.03.05 at 11:41 am

hmmm… I wonder if that’s only domestic prisons…

http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2005/11/02/cia-prison051102.html

20

Ray 11.03.05 at 11:55 am

You might want to look at Parisian riots yes, because Franceis definitely the only country in the world with a history of race riots. With that kind of memory, no wonder Americans feel so good about themselves.

21

saurabh 11.03.05 at 11:59 am

For data on what “causes” the increase in prison populations, check out: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/corrtyp.htm. More than half of growth is due to violent crimes. How much of that is due to increases in rates of crimes as opposed to tougher sentencing? Check out this:
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance.htm#Crime
You’ll see that, contrary to what someone said above, violent crime has actually been going DOWN since 1993, while incarcerations are up. The fact that these two are in opposition suggests that conviction rates are increasing.

And, as numerous people have noted, the rate and ease of convictions for drug offenses has been skyrocketing.

22

abb1 11.03.05 at 12:02 pm

Of course, the voting issue is in a way tangential to the real problem.

Not ‘of course’, not obvious. Since perhaps most of the underclass (if you count disenfranchised citizens, non-citizen immigrants and illegal immigrants together) has no input into political system, there could be an element of a vicious circle here.

23

y81 11.03.05 at 12:13 pm

I’m not sure about Poland or Spain, but I am pretty sure that the overall crime rate (though not the homicide rate) in the U.S. is lower than the rate in the U.K., so maybe they need to lock up more people in the U.K.

24

Ray 11.03.05 at 12:23 pm

About a quarter of a million more, to catch up with the US.

25

Dan Hardie 11.03.05 at 12:39 pm

How hard did you look for the data? The World Prison list, accurate as of February 2005, is available at
http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/rel/icps/world-prison-population-list-2005.pdf

Apparently England and Wales have 142 persons imprisoned per 100,000, above Spain’s 140. Scotland manages 132 per 100,000. Northern Ireland, amusingly, has one of the lowest incarceration rates in Europe. 14 European states have higher incarceration rates than us, all of them ex-Communist.

26

stormy 11.03.05 at 12:43 pm

Slocum,

Cheap shots aside, US is right up there in murder rates…France much lower. And, of course, Canada, your neighbor, lower yet.

US rates are approximately 3 times higher than France or Canada.

Keep crowing. I do suggest you actually look at the statistics.

Frankly, outside of Russia, South Africa, and a few others, US certainly is by far the most violent of the “industrialized” countries.

http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/y/homicide.htm#murd

Feel free to check out the site.

27

Chris Bertram 11.03.05 at 12:48 pm

Not that hard, Dan. I took the prison population from the Times in May

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1634669,00.html

It seems to be slightly lower than the KCL figure, but it isn’t as if we’re a different ballpark.

28

Kieran Healy 11.03.05 at 12:59 pm

Frankly, outside of Russia, South Africa, and a few others, US certainly is by far the most violent of the “industrialized” countries.

Earlier this year I posted some time-series of deaths due to assault in OECD countries, from 1960 to 2002. The U.S. is definitely an odd case.

29

goatchowder 11.03.05 at 1:18 pm

I agree that a lot of this is the residue of the “War on Some Drugs”, as Robert Anton Wilson calls it.

But it’s also part of the American “outlaw/Western/opportunity” culture and its deep cultural dedication to greed, scam, ripoffs, quick riches, and “free market” dogma. I discovered and puzzled over our prison “leadership” 5 years ago (this is not news). Then I saw “Bowling for Columbine” and the statistics made perfect sense.

I’d be curious to see the stats overlaid on red/blue states too.

30

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.03.05 at 1:41 pm

“Then I saw “Bowling for Columbine” and the statistics made perfect sense.”

Please elaborate.

A huge portion of the incarcerations are due to the draconian War on Drugs. Changing that alone would do quite a bit.

BTW, comparisons to North Korea are a bit stretched. A) Their entire population is not allowed to leave the country and is subject to constant brainwashing. B) Where precisely do you think you are getting accurate statistics?

31

Chris Bertram 11.03.05 at 1:47 pm

Their entire population is … subject to constant brainwashing.

I wasn’t aware that Fox News is transmitted in Pyongyang. ;)

32

Javier 11.03.05 at 1:58 pm

These statistics are utterly horrible and I personally think that the war on drugs and the booming prison population constitute the greatest injustice in American today. But it’s not responsible for low unemployment rates.

Economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger have calculated the effect of the prison boom on the US labor market and found that the growing number of inmates made only a minor contribution to the reduction in unemployment. In 1998 for instance, unemployment was .1 to .2 percent lower than it would have been if the prison population stayed the same between 1985 and 1998.

33

Silent E 11.03.05 at 2:00 pm

Compared to Europe, it’s overdetermined. The US has guns. The US is also a more aggressive society in general. So violence is more likely, and substantially more likely to be severe or fatal. See, e.g., youth gang violence in the US and abroad. Thus violent crime rates (felonies) are higher. Violent crimes have longer sentences. That means more incarceration.

The war on drugs is also a problem that dovetails with the armed and violent nature of the US: aggressive anti-drug measures drive up the cost of drugs and thus the returns to drug dealers. Dealers have a greater incentive to resort to violence to control the trade, and that violence is more likley to be serious or fatal (to bystanders as well as junkies and crooks). That in turn leads to more incarceration.

So you’ve got guns, social violence, and anti-drug crusading all interacting in a nasty web of feedbacks.

On top of that, there may actually be differences in reporting rates for some crimes due to social pressures (rape, for example) or in conviction rates due to technology (e.g., DNA databases) which lead to higher incarceration rates.

34

roger 11.03.05 at 2:22 pm

There’s a new study by Shepherd and Blackly in the Social Science Quarterly (Summer) which shows that increases in drug crime arrests lead to increases in crime. Interesting stuff. Their study — which takes into account drug arrests in NY state between 1996-2000 — reproduces studies done elsewhere, such as Florida.

This indicates that putting people in prison might actually be a driver of higher crime rates, contra the views expressed by the right. Of course, there might be some equilibrium point in which that no longer holds.

In any case, one thing is for certain: the U.S. is certainly no longer the land of the free, and the freedom it pretends to want to defend worldwide is not a freedom it welcomes domestically. Lou Reed predicted it all a long time ago: Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em/That’s what the statue of bigotry says/Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death/And get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard.”

We should really make Dirty Boulevard the American national anthem.

35

Slocum 11.03.05 at 2:34 pm

Cheap shots aside, US is right up there in murder rates…France much lower. And, of course, Canada, your neighbor, lower yet.

US rates are approximately 3 times higher than France or Canada.

Keep crowing. I do suggest you actually look at the statistics.

Yes, I’m aware of the statistics. I’m also aware that homicide rates have dropped so substantially in the U.S. that they are about half of what they were in the early 1990’s. In terms of satisfaction and optimism, trends seem to be as important or more important than steady-state statistics.

I also know that murder is something of an outlier — that the U.S. has a lower street robbery rate than the UK for example and a burglary rate that is about half that the of the UK. And, again, crimes of all types have been decreasing in the U.S. and rising elsewhere. It’s also the case that robbery and burglary are much more common crimes than murder and, therefore, affect a greater number of people and my have a greater affect on perceptions of quality of life.

I’m not crowing, by the way — there’s still plenty of room for improvement. But the idea that the U.S. is uniquely plagued by crime and is therefore a ‘broken’ society just doesn’t hold up.

36

BigMacAttack 11.03.05 at 2:41 pm

This is an inkblot. Comment. What are you describing? Here is a hint, it isn’t the inkblot.

If some Right Wing ‘Nut’ over at Tech Central put a post titled the Joys of Socialism and included a link to Nationmaster that showed that Finland had the 3rd highest crime rate in the world, you can bet the CT crowd would have the air crackling with derision. And would mostly be justified.

But same type of crap posted on CT results in a different kind of band wagon.

‘Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a mad-man, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate a highwayman and murderer, who has broke prison, upon the recovery of his natural rights?’

In other words, good, criminals belong in jails.

Even though, I also wish non violent drug offenders were not so readily imprisoned.

And yet, are you, and am I, so sure there is absolutely no relationship between criminalizing drugs and reducing drug use? And if not, what is the cost of less lives destroyed by drugs versus the cost criminalizing?

Is any of this data adjusted for the % of the male population between 15-35? And how much would such an adjustment change the statistics?

How much can government influence culture?

How much of this is a result of single parent families and divorce and what can and should we do about it?

How many fewer crimes per 1000 are worth how many more convicted criminals going to prison per 1000?

And so on.

Chris Y see Burke.

Jason Kuznicki you have it completely backwards. Did you know lung cancer doesn’t make people smoke? I am guessing you didn’t.

Joshua W. Burton. No they have been moving inversely. And again eliminating hospital stays would not result in less death. Increasing prison times do not result in prison time gaining street cred. Increased prison time is a result of prison time bestowing street cred.

Abb1, only black ex cons don’t vote. (You would probably also be very suprised by the views on law and order of black ex con’s who do vote.)

Ray, perhaps if you either had better reading skills or a shorter memory, you would not have responded to Slocum’s self admitted cheap shot, by wallowing in the cultural caricature of short memoried Americans. Maybe short memories aren’t that bad.

Goatchowder and Finland’s high suicide rate is the result of socialism. And actually since it looks like the suicide rate + murder rate is higher than the suicide + murder rate in the US, free market dogma is the way to go. Score another one for capitalism.

37

washerdreyer 11.03.05 at 3:53 pm

I haven’t looked at the film since I saw it in theatres, but I thought that Bowling for Columbine was interestingly non-polemic. That is, each potential cause it set up for violence in the United States it also refuted, at least in part. I left with some vauge feeling that media over-emphasis on the threat of violence was a large reason, but that it couldn’t be the root reason.

38

goatchowder 11.03.05 at 4:11 pm

Sebastian, well, rent the movie; it elaborates better than I can. But if you have seen it, and don’t understand why I pointed to it, I’ll try to explain.

The movie momentarily pulled me out of the cultural water we swim in. Also so did the book “The Future of Money” by Bernard Lietaer (available in the USA only through amazon.co.uk).

Ours is a culture built on fear, mutual distrust, an ingrained Puritanism, devil-take-the-hindmost competition, and an economy that is essentially a huge Ponzi scheme with the bankers at the top and large corporations and governments just below it– and everyone from there on down either directly or indirectly ripping each other off in order to pay usury to those higher in the pyramid. It’s a “divider, not a uniter”. Our economy encourages– almost demands– something dangerously close to criminal-like or at least anti-social behaviour, and our Puritan ethics create all kinds of new victimless “crimes”; that combination almost guarantees a lot of people in prison.

This is a country which was formed by an alliance of armed utopian religious fanatics and get-rich-quick privateer/pirate ripoff artists. That that alliance still runs the place should come as a surprise to no-one. The original Mayflower compact would fit in neatly as rules of order for Grover Norquist’s Wednesday morning breakfast meeting. And House of Hancock was the largest smuggling ring in the Colonies.

My old man (who fancied himself a cop) used to say: “Criminals are stupid. If they were smart, they’d be successful businessmen instead.” Smarts is part of it; breeding, education, and hereditary opportities are a much larger part of it IMHO. But that’s irrelevant to my point: not everyone can be a successful businessman– but goddamn we all got to get our bling-bling. The “innovative and competitive” Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Gates get to go to Washington, but the “innovative and competitive” crack dealer goes to jail. The rest of us are not so ambitious so we make much smaller compromises, perform very subtle rip-offs and back-stabs in order to get and/or keep our jobs, and suffer the dombination of consumer-marketing barrage and vague moral pangs with resignation. Being content as a low-level schlemiel is the safe way for the majority to stay out of prison (unless the Puritans get us, of course).

I guess what I’m saying is: if you head out on the Horatio Alger path without first having learned the boundaries of the law (or don’t have a Poppy who can bail you out when you cross them), you’re likely to quickly become part of that burgeoning prison population instead. If greed is good, jail is bad, and the line between the two is very fine.

I’m not a sociologist, and so I can’t explain it in academically rigorous terms. I’d need to bake this quite a bit more to turn it into a provable theory which could have numbers attached to it. But it became intuitively clear to me that the combination of Puritanism (i.e. the War On Some Drugs), the easy availability of guns, and a winner-take-all culture and money system which rewards competition dominance and money-lust and mutual-distrust– and demeans or punishes cooperation–, are adequate to explain our world’s-largest prison population.

39

Matt 11.03.05 at 4:25 pm

In addition to the problems from the war on drugs (though clearly related to them) are the much longer sentences in the US. Some of this is kept in place at least in part due to heavy lobbying by both for-profit prisons and, especially in California, the prison guard’s union. (The prison guard’s union in CA has been one of the big forces keeping the draconian 3-strikes laws as well as awful laws on juvenile offenders.) There are many obviously pathological factors about the prison system and the criminal justice system in the US. These are just some of them.

40

John Emerson 11.03.05 at 4:36 pm

War on drugs plus race.

Both race and the drug war are institutionized in a way that makes any change difficult. The War on Drugs is politically untouchable because of the hysterical anti-drug bullet vote.

My belief is that it is an attempt at outlawing ideas and attitudes. Around 1970, certain ideas and attitudes hated by the majority were statistically associated with drug use. Outlawing ideas is impossible in the American system, so the markers of the attitude were outlawed.

Since then other factors have intervened, for example the lobbying of the prison guards union (not a joke at all in California, Oregon, and presumably elsewhere.)

Believers in original sin and believers in heierarchy (read George Will) are immensely gratified by a high-crime high-punishment society, and that’s what we’ve got. Someplace like Canada horrifies them.

41

washerdreyer 11.03.05 at 5:31 pm

Large parts of 37 remind me of The Grumbling Hive. Since I think The Grumbling Hive and The Fable of the Bees are both deeply confused, my opinion of 37 can also be guessed.

42

PersonFromPorlock 11.03.05 at 5:47 pm

…US is right up there in murder rates…

Murder isn’t all that serious a crime, except to its victims. The typical murder is a spouse killing, or some loser shaking his girlfriend’s kid to death. A murder may cause a nine day’s wonder in the neighborhood but it doesn’t disturb it the way, say, a purse-snatching would. The socially serious crimes are the ones that leave people feeling vulnerable — robbery, burglary and so forth — and here America stacks up pretty well.

43

Ray 11.03.05 at 5:53 pm

You’re not from Porlock, you’re from Mars.

44

PersonFromPorlock 11.03.05 at 6:27 pm

Ray: Your neighbor on the left kills his wife. Your neighbor on the right’s wife is knocked down and her purse snatched. Which crime affects you and your wife more? Does your wife worry about you becoming homicidal, or do both of you worry about her becoming another robbery victim?

45

soru 11.03.05 at 7:16 pm

I see that the US also has the highest absolute number of prisoners in the world (more than China!)

Strictly speaking, isn’t that partly because the people who would be inflating Chinese prisoner statistics are actually buried in the back lot?

http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=2542

If you assume most of those ~10,000 people per year judicially executed since 1983 would otherwise still be alive serving life sentences, that make’s quite a dent in the statistics (though not quite enough to reverse the picture, on the Nationmaster numbers). US executions aren’t in quite that quantity.

soru

46

DC 11.03.05 at 7:22 pm

Allowing for obvious exaggeration/reductionism/simplistic explanation…the United States has chosen a prison system instead of a welfare state. Discuss.

47

roger 11.03.05 at 7:27 pm

I do think that one of the ways to decrease the penchant for throwing people in the clink is to attach social penalties to those numbers — for every person who goes into prison, x amount of money must be spent on education, health care, and the social welfare lot. Making it expensive to solve social problems by criminalizing street life might knock some sense into the gate community voter.

However, this is a dream solution — the gated community voter would much rather pay to process black men in large numbers through the American gulag. And nothing strikes that voter as funnier than jokes about how you get raped in prison — they find references to teenagers being sodomized with broomhandles in prison the height of kneeslapping humor. It might be difficult to gain traction on outlawing torture in CIA prisons overseas when torture in prisons in Texas is the cream of the jest.

The situation actually reproduces that which occured after the first batch of civil rights legislation, in the late 1860s. Southern states reinstated slavery by imprisoning as many African americans as they could, in a burst of penal peonage.

48

stormy 11.03.05 at 7:59 pm

personfrompornlock,

Burglary rate U.S. 433.1 offenses per 10000

http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/offenses_reported/property_crime/burglary.html

Sigh, the U.S. wins again. Highest robbery rate.

http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/301/301lect16.htm

Now France is up there in robberies; but the U.S. is higher.

I do want to help you, personfrompornlock. Try using the internet to get actual stats…not things you remember hearing somewhere on the news.

The last link I gave you will has links to plenty of stuff…will help you with your talking points.

49

Slocum 11.03.05 at 8:22 pm

Sigh, the U.S. wins again. Highest robbery rate.

Not according to this comparison:

Contact crime

An overall measure of contact crime was taken as robbery, assaults with force, and sexual assaults (against women only). The highest risks were in Australia, England and Wales, Canada, Scotland and Finland: over 3% were victims. This was more than double the level in USA, Belgium, Catalonia, Portugal, and Japan (all under 2%). In Japan the risk of contact crime was especially low (0.4%).

http://www.minjust.nl:8080/b_organ/wodc/summaries/ob187sum.htm

In fact, the U.S. doesn’t top any of the categories considered (though murder is not included).

50

Uncle Kvetch 11.03.05 at 8:41 pm

And nothing strikes that voter as funnier than jokes about how you get raped in prison—they find references to teenagers being sodomized with broomhandles in prison the height of kneeslapping humor.

Not to get too tangential, Roger, but I commented on this a few days ago on another site, because of the amazing number of fellow-lefties who have been celebrating the indictment of Scooter Libby by “joking” about prison rape. The striking thing is that nobody jokes about him, say, getting his teeth knocked in–that would be in bad taste, wouldn’t it?

I want Libby (and the administration) brought to justice as much as anybody, but the idea that rape could ever be considered amusing in any context whatsoever is beyond my comprehension.

On second thought, maybe that’s not totally tangential after all; after all, it speaks to a very weird and disturbing cult of masculinity that we see playing out in violent crime as well.

51

Joshua W. Burton 11.03.05 at 8:44 pm

In fact, the U.S. doesn’t top any of the categories considered (though murder is not included).

As I have observed here at least once before, statistics that exclude self-murder (70% of all violent death in the US, 85% in the UK, 96% in Japan!) artificially push the US to the top, whereas the suicide-inclusive numbers put us right in the boring middle of industrialized nations.

If my son will have the same three or four chances per thousand of dying by deliberate violence in his twenties, am I better off living in a country where it will almost certainly be by his own hand?

52

stormy 11.03.05 at 9:18 pm

Slocum,

Interesting site. You realize, of course, that this was a survey, a poll of 2000 people in each country! I did chuckle at that.

“Samples were usually of 2,000
people, which mean there is a fairly wide sampling error on the ICVS estimates. The
surveys cannot, then, give precise estimates of crime in different countries.”

Now, given populations into the millions, a survey of 2000 people certainly is not very accurate!

Ok, Slocum, feel free to try again. I would like something a bit more substantive, please.

Believe me, I am looking at this in a spirit of fun. I have no problem if the statistics are from a reasonable source. I just think people should have sources, reliable ones.

53

stormy 11.03.05 at 9:19 pm

Slocum,

By the way, I do read all links people provide. Posters as well as bloggers.

54

sd 11.03.05 at 9:27 pm

American prisoners drink orange juice every day, trucked into their prisons via massive, gas guzzling semi trucks. Oops, wrong cliched anti-American rant. My bad.

55

sd 11.03.05 at 9:30 pm

Is anyone suggesting that American prisons are filled with the wrongfully convicted? Because all this “America has chosen a prison system instead of a welfare system” sneering invites the obvious question: So what precise level of health benefits is it appropriate to give to men who rape women and kill rival gang members in lieu of a prison term?

56

Uncle Kvetch 11.03.05 at 10:01 pm

Is anyone suggesting that American prisons are filled with the wrongfully convicted?

No, SD, and if you bothered to read the 53 comments before yours you’d know that. A number of people have pointed out that the huge prison population is very largely attributable to nonviolent crimes–more specifically, to drug-related crimes–for which other forms of punishment or prevention (or, God forbid, treatment) might be more appropriate than wholesale incarceration.

But if you consider merely pointing out the fact that we lock up a greater percentage of our citizens than any other country on earth to be an “anti-American rant”–or if you’d prefer to believe that “the liberals want rapists to go free”–I don’t expect you’ll take those people seriously. They obviously hate freedom.

57

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.03.05 at 10:38 pm

“I haven’t looked at the film since I saw it in theatres, but I thought that Bowling for Columbine was interestingly non-polemic.”

Cough.

58

Bob B 11.03.05 at 10:49 pm

Pardon me but after eight years of Tony Blair’s government with “Tough on crime and tough on the cause of crime,” we have this singular achievement:

“A UNITED Nations report has labelled Scotland the most violent country in the developed world, with people three times more likely to be assaulted than in America. England and Wales recorded the second highest number of violent assaults while Northern Ireland recorded the fewest. . . “
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1786945,00.html

59

Keith M Ellis 11.03.05 at 10:53 pm

Is anyone suggesting that American prisons are filled with the wrongfully convicted?

I’ll suggest that. I don’t think our criminal justice system is fair to young, poor, black men. I’m pretty certain it’s not fair to poor people in general, but especially the urban underclass. Plea bargaining probably accounts for a good portion of this.

About these stats: it’s a shame that this comes as news to anyone. It’s quite amazing the number of people the US has incarcerated. Given the nature of that incarceration—with its emphasis on punishment and very little on rehabilitation and the dominance of gangs and the extreme brutality—it’s creating an anti-socialized population that represents a signifcant portion of our population. I don’t know exactly what the consequences are of this, but I’m sure they’re very bad.

60

Ulf Pettersson 11.04.05 at 12:10 am

Comparing crime statistics between countries is notoriously difficult; the definitions of crimes are different, some countries mix in attempts for certain crimes, the statistical quality varies as does the willingness to report crime.

One crime statistic which can be compared more safely however, is murder. On this better measure the US, as with prisoners, leads the pack among the OECD with rates some 4 times higher than average.

I certainly cannot see why it would be in any way relevant to mix up voluntary suicide with involuntary murder.

Corrections systems in general seem very crudely designed in all (most?) industrialized countries. Instead of actually making sure the people that are put in prison stop committing crime what prisons end up doing is socializing criminals to a stronger criminal identity.

61

Christopher M 11.04.05 at 1:23 am

Slocum on murder: In terms of satisfaction and optimism, trends seem to be as important or more important than steady-state statistics.

In terms of death, however, the same is not true.

62

rollo 11.04.05 at 2:15 am

Keith M Ellis:

“I don’t think our criminal justice system is fair to young, poor, black men. I’m pretty certain it’s not fair to poor people in general, but especially the urban underclass.”

I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way but it reads like you think everything was fine until they ended up in the justice system. Nothing in the entire American communal enterprise is fair to young, poor, black men. Not its recognition of its own past, not its recognition of its still prejudicial present, not its wilful blindness toward the virtually inevitable futures of those young black men.

BigMacAttack – Your unattributed Burkean quote goes on to say:

“The wild gas, the fixed air, is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface.”

Not that that makes it any clearer.
To a coward all men in prison are dangerous men, and therefore less threatening in prison than out, and therefore all men in prison belong there – not for their sins, if any, but for the threat they pose to him personally.
This is what motivates the right-wing’s leering enthusiasm for draconian mandatory sentencing laws, as well as the junior-varsity left’s callous yuks about anal rape.
Fear, not morality, drives it all.

63

CP 11.04.05 at 2:31 am

According to the link provided above – http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/corrtyp.htm – drug offenses account for only about 1/4 of the prison population. Property offenses are another 1/4, and violent crimes are about 1/2. If U.S. incarceration levels really are far above other countries, drug crimes aren’t making the difference.

My feeling is that the U.S. is simply unique. There is no other country in the world that it can be compared to. It’s not like Europe, it’s not like Canada, it’s not like Mexico or Brazil or Australia or Japan. It is a new country, it is a western country, it is a racially and culturally mixed country. There is no other country in the world like it.

It’s not surprising that America is off the charts on many measures, both good and bad.

64

Chris Bertram 11.04.05 at 2:43 am

It is a new country

Founded c. 1776, I believe. Therefore not as new as Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Germany etc etc

65

washerdreyer 11.04.05 at 3:05 am

Sebastian – I thought someone would take issue with my claim. So, what was the polemical message that Bowling for Columbine rammed down our throats? I’m not saying Farenheit 9/11 wasn’t a polemic, or that Michael Moore is my hero, or that he’s not fat, just that bowling for columbine was “interestingly non-polemical.” What’s wrong with that?

66

Ray 11.04.05 at 3:54 am

Personfromporlock: If my neighbour on my left killed his wife, it would send shockwaves through the neighbourhood. It wouldn’t make my wife more afraid of being killed by me, but it would greatly undermine her (and my) feeling of security. Everyone who knew them, from neighbours to workmates to other parents at their kids’ schools (not to mention their kids, their kids’ friends, their in-laws and all their friends, etc, etc) would feel that the world made less sense now than it did before. That’s a very scary feeling.
A mugging might make you feel a little less safe in certain areas after dark, but it doesn’t shake your faith in humanity.

67

abb1 11.04.05 at 4:40 am

Because all this “America has chosen a prison system instead of a welfare system” sneering invites the obvious question: So what precise level of health benefits is it appropriate to give to men who rape women and kill rival gang members in lieu of a prison term?

The level of health benefits that will convince them not to rape and kill in the first place.

68

Alan 11.04.05 at 5:50 am

I’d like to add another point as a non-USA reader of CT. A very strong theme I see in the USA is spite and revenge. This seems to pop up more often and more strongly in the USA than anywhere else I have ever visited (and I have travelled widely). I will say this as if it is a much more clear cut distinction than it really is, to make my point clear: if something goes wrong in the USA, they look for someone to punish; if something goes wrong in other countries, they look for the cause.

69

ajay 11.04.05 at 6:49 am

On the suicide point: I would question reporting rates here. It is quite possible that in a more religious country there is more stigma attached to the family of a suicide, and that, out of kindness, suicides tend to be misreported as ‘accidental death’ – ‘shot while cleaning his gun’ or some such – more often than in a less religious country.
For example, I would guess that there is a lot more stigma attached to suicide in the US than there is in Japan.

Be careful of the reporting issue. Any survey that concludes that Northern Ireland is the least violent country in the developed world probably has something a bit dubious about it.

70

derrida derider 11.04.05 at 7:36 am

[The US is] not like Europe, it’s not like Canada, it’s not like Mexico or Brazil or Australia or Japan. It is a new country, it is a western country, it is a racially and culturally mixed country.

Umm, Canada, Brazil and Australia are all now racially and culturally mixed countries – visit them if you don’t believe it. American exceptionalism is as objectionable as French, Chinese and Japanese exceptionalism – in fact more so as its over-large military is more of a threat to others.

ajay is right about international suicide rates. It turns out that Catholic countries, in particular, have a low recorded suicide rate but a suspiciously high rate of death from accidental gunshots and poisoning.

71

Jeremy Osner 11.04.05 at 8:41 am

Ray — thanks for the response to PersonFromMars’ deeply bizarre post. I was trying to phrase a similar response but could not figure out how to. Just because a claim is novel and counterintuitive, doesn’t make it so.

72

Peter Clay 11.04.05 at 9:10 am

“The level of health benefits that will convince them not to rape and kill in the first place.”

So healthcare can prevent rape? Have you told Andrea Dworkin this?

73

Peter Clay 11.04.05 at 9:21 am

Oh, and re: crime in Northern Ireland, it’s actually quite free of non-sectarian violence. The paramilitaries keep drug crime down by kneecapping drug dealers. There’s quite a lot of “organised crime”: petrol smuggling, fraud, bank robbery are traditional IRA funding methods.

Spend a while in Belfast and you’ll be struck by the strong sense of local community that exists, in complete contrast to places like London. It’s unfortunate that that sense of community leans heavily (but not exclusively) on hatred of the other community.

74

Uncle Kvetch 11.04.05 at 9:28 am

A very strong theme I see in the USA is spite and revenge.

Not to mention a mind-boggling level of thin-skinned tetchiness should it ever be suggested that anything could possibly not be for the best in this the best of all possible countries. As this wildly meandering thread has amply proven.

Highest incarceration rates in the world? Well, there were riots in the suburbs of Paris last night! And you’re more likely to be assaulted in Scotland! And you’re more likely to commit suicide in Finland! So QED, bitches!

Truly amazing.

75

jet 11.04.05 at 9:36 am

“So QED, bitches!”
That got coffee not just on my monitor, but up my nose.

76

roger 11.04.05 at 10:21 am

Americans of both left and right are amazingly eager to jail people. Look at the satisfaction of liberals when the 80 year old head of Adelphia, a white collar criminal, got fifteen years in jail. According to the Project on Sentencing, the number of people in prison for drug offenses rose 1000 percent from 1980 to 1999 — from 40,000 to 453,000. It is harder to find stats on things like passing bad checks (for your third offense on a thing like that, you can get 25 to life in California). The Sentencing project also found that — as of 1997 — only one fifth of those sentenced to 25 to life by that California three strikes law were for violent crimes.

Prison is the American safety net.

77

goatchowder 11.04.05 at 11:13 am

“Prison is the American safety net.”

That handily sums up a large part of what I was struggling to say in my long and rather ham-handed post.

Exactly.

78

goatchowder 11.04.05 at 11:14 am

“Prison is the American safety net.”

That handily sums up a large part of what I was struggling to say in my overly-long and rather ham-handed post.

Exactly.

79

John Emerson 11.04.05 at 11:17 am

Some of us actually feel safer when one of our neighbors kills his or her partner. Liberals are always going one about “innocent victims of murder”, but if you’ve lived with a mouthy bitch for a few months you can understand that many victims of domestic violence are guilty! guilty! guilty! The same goes for gang killings, when the victims are normal criminals and members of criminal families or residents of criminal neighborhoods.

In America, one of our unique innovations is to allow these harmless or beneficial killings. This is something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed of. (People crow about the low murder rate in Japan — does no one remember the Rape of Nanking?)

“Crime” is when the perp is a young black male stranger.

80

John Emerson 11.04.05 at 11:18 am

“on”, “normally”

81

Jeremy Osner 11.04.05 at 11:28 am

Trippy… reading a comment, I’m baffled, trying to figure out what’s going on — then I glance down at the bottom of the comment and see Zizka’s name and everything is clear again.

82

y81 11.04.05 at 11:29 am

stormy, you don’t seem to be posting links to comparative international statistics. Is there anyone who can post a link to an objective, peer-reviewed study of comparative international crime rates? (Surely, adjusting for different definitions among western countries can’t be beyond the competence of the massed social scientists of the English-speaking world.)

Reading the above posts, and unless someone can answer my request in the preceding paragraph, it does seem that my original understanding, that the U.K. has higher overall crime rates than U.S., is correct.

83

soubzriquet 11.04.05 at 11:34 am

cp, re #63: Your are quite off the mark about Canada, at least. It is new, `western’ (in whatever sense you mean that, it is comparable to the US), culturally and racially diverse (if I recall correctly, Toronto is the most racially diverse city in North America). In many ways, Canada is a perfect comparison to the US, in that there is so much parallel development.

The main problem is that, although Canada is a bit bigger than the US, the population is an order of magnitude smaller, which has some profound effects.

In any case the US is only unique in a trivial sense, and many comparisons with Canada in particular are quite worthwhile.

84

abb1 11.04.05 at 11:40 am

Yeah, I think healthcare, jobs with high minimum wage, decent education, decent public services, etc. can prevent rape, prevalence of gangs and so on.

Obviously healthcare alone isn’t enough – judging by what’s going on in France. But it doesn’t hurt.

85

Silent E 11.04.05 at 11:44 am

Once again, it’s overdetermined.

After all, apart from the fact the US likes locking people up for a very long time for violent crimes and drug offences, there’s also the fact that crime rates in the US are just higher. You can’t put all the blame on sentencing guidelines or the War On Some Drugs – you have to address the fact that most violent crimes are substantially more common in the US than elsewhere.

As someone who spent two semesters reading through thousands of violent crime reports* for a research project , I came away with the following conclusions, vis. homicide/manslaughter:

1. Guns don’t kill people. But angry men with guns kill a LOT of people.
2. Men get angry enough to kill for lots of reasons, but I’d say more than 65% of the time, the motive for the killer is related to drugs, gangs, or domestic violence (angry ex-boyfriends and estranged husbands, mostly). Mental illness accounts for a larger portion of the rest than you might think.
3. Murder victims are many times not the actual targets of the anger: family members, friends, mistaken identities (wrong addresses), or bystanders.
4. Drunk drivers also kill lots of folks.

Are Americans may be more violent than Canadians or Europeans. I don’t know. But they certainly have more lethal means at their disposal when they get violent.

* a comprehensive statewide sample, not selected for anything other than that they were felonies investigated that year by police

86

soubzriquet 11.04.05 at 11:45 am

addendum to #83: `racial diversity’ is a pretty fuzzy concept. I should have said `one of the most racially diverse cities…’.

87

Slocum 11.04.05 at 12:02 pm

Not to mention a mind-boggling level of thin-skinned tetchiness should it ever be suggested that anything could possibly not be for the best in this the best of all possible countries. As this wildly meandering thread has amply proven.

Highest incarceration rates in the world? Well, there were riots in the suburbs of Paris last night! And you’re more likely to be assaulted in Scotland! And you’re more likely to commit suicide in Finland! So QED, bitches!

You’ve missed the point–at least you’ve missed my point in raising the issue of the riots in France. Yes, the U.S. prison population is too high — the war on drugs is stupid, and ‘three strikes’ laws that put people in prison for long sentences for non-violent 3rd felonies are terrible. That is true.

What I’m arguing is that this does not mean what many commentators here think it means–that the U.S. is a fundamentally ‘broken’ society. And so the fact that, murder aside, U.S. crime rates (including other forms of violent crime) are lower than some western European countries is notable, as is the fact that U.S. crime rates have dropped dramatically in the last 10-15 years, as is the fact hat U.S. citizens express considerably more satisfaction with present conditions and optimism for the future than Europeans do. These indicators are not consistent with the ‘broken society’ thesis.

As for the Paris riots. The disorder (mostly fictitious as it turned out) following Katrina in New Orleans was widely taken as a true indication of the ‘real’ state of the U.S. (‘The mask was ripped away to reveal the ugly blah, blah, blah’). Do we read any comparable analysis in the mainstream media regarding the French riots?

And yet, the societal problems at the base of the Parisian riots seem much more deeply embedded in France (and elsewhere in Europe) and much more threatening for the future than those responsible for the high U.S. prison population (where changes in drug laws and mandatory ‘3 strikes’ laws would make a big difference).

88

blowback 11.04.05 at 12:26 pm

#63 by cp
According to the link provided above drug offenses account for only about 1/4 of the prison population. Property offenses are another 1/4, and violent crimes are about 1/2. If U.S. incarceration levels really are far above other countries, drug crimes aren’t making the difference.

In the UK at least a large proportion of property offences are drug related. How do you fund a £500 (~$1000) a week drug habit on social security of ~£50 a week? I suspect that the same also applies to violent crimes.

The sames seems to apply to Illinois:

“39.3 percent (13,558) of all prison admissions in 2003 were for drug crimes and another 30.3 percent (10,456) were for property crimes, many of which are believed to be to support a drug addiction. Thus, it can be estimated that as many as 69 percent of all 34,481 adult inmates admitted to prison in 2003 served time for a drug-involved crime. In addition, more than 60 percent of all arrestees statewide and 82 percent of all arrestees in Chicago tested positive for at least one illegal drug at their time of their apprehension.”

The solution: legalize all narcotics as state monopolies

89

John Emerson 11.04.05 at 12:29 pm

The people I know who have lived both in the US and in continental Western Europe do not have a subjective perception that the US is more safe than or equally safe as the places they lived in over there. The murder rates generally confirm their subjective judgements.

Last-ditch defenders of the US use statistics when convenient, polling when convenient, and subjective judgements when convenient.

90

Alex Gregory 11.04.05 at 12:38 pm

In my humble opinion:
Katrina was largely taken as a display of the ‘real’ US because it showed just how poor the community was there, and just how little the government bothered to look after its citizens. Those on the left generally thought that the people of New Orleans were spectacular, and it was the government (and therefore, now I think about it, people elsewhere who voted for that government) who were inhumanly imcompassionate.

91

Slocum 11.04.05 at 12:42 pm

The people I know who have lived both in the US and in continental Western Europe do not have a subjective perception that the US is more safe than or equally safe as the places they lived in over there. The murder rates generally confirm their subjective judgements.

Last-ditch defenders of the US use statistics when convenient, polling when convenient, and subjective judgements when convenient.

And what do we say about people who offer only anecdotes when they lack statistics? Or do you have a link to a statistically valid poll of those people who’ve lived in both the U.S. and Western Europe?

92

Joshua W. Burton 11.04.05 at 12:52 pm

Underreporting of suicide in Japan and Catholic countries: this would only raise their overall violent death rate still higher, relative to the US.

Christopher M: I certainly cannot see why it would be in any way relevant to mix up voluntary suicide with involuntary murder.

Because they’re both equally voluntary, on the part of the perpetrator. And because it’s with the perpetrator, not the victim, that the state edifice of criminal justice is rightly concerned.

93

Joshua W. Burton 11.04.05 at 12:53 pm

Oops. Ulf Pettersson, not Christopher M. Sorry!

94

Uncle Kvetch 11.04.05 at 12:59 pm

And yet, the societal problems at the base of the Parisian riots seem much more deeply embedded in France (and elsewhere in Europe) and much more threatening for the future than those responsible for the high U.S. prison population (where changes in drug laws and mandatory ‘3 strikes’ laws would make a big difference).

And what do you base this impression on, Slocum?

95

John Emerson 11.04.05 at 1:03 pm

No, I don’t, slocum. As I made clear in what I wrote. This particular argument is normally conducted at the kitchen-sink level, no?

As far as I know, the percent is 100% of the individuals I know. I have never met anyone who says that continental Europe is worse than the US, and I lived in a relatively peaceful American city (Portland, OR). Throw in Japan, too, but not Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, or the ex-USSR.

Oddly enough, the violence of American cities is exaggerated by Red-state conservatives, except when they’re defending the US visavis Europe.

96

Slocum 11.04.05 at 1:23 pm

“And yet, the societal problems at the base of the Parisian riots seem much more deeply embedded in France (and elsewhere in Europe) and much more threatening for the future than those responsible for the high U.S. prison population (where changes in drug laws and mandatory ‘3 strikes’ laws would make a big difference).”

And what do you base this impression on, Slocum?

That the failed integration of Muslim immigrants is a problem throughout the countries of Western Europe and, to this point, there don’t seem to be any viable solutions on the table.

Throwing money at the problem (in the form of welfare payments) certainly doesn’t seem to be working (and may, arguably, be contributing to the problem). In the case of high U.S. prison populations, I can point to legal changes that, if adopted, would make a significant difference (namely, the end of prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes, and the repeal of mandatory ‘3 strikes’ laws), but I can’t point to any similar legal changes that would have a comparable effect on immigrant alienation in the EU — can you?

97

jet 11.04.05 at 1:23 pm

John Emerson,
You are getting ridiculous “I have never met anyone who says that continental Europe is worse than the US, and I lived in a relatively peaceful American city (Portland, OR).”

So if you lived in West Virginia and all your friends were members of the KKK, we should take your vast amounts of anecdotal evidence that minorities are bad? Given that you live in Portland and have friends that either visit or live in Europe, I’m guessing they aren’t the lesser well-heeled variety of Europeans. Hard to get mugged in your limo or robbed in your gated community. But go on and tell me how poor they are and how just the other day one of your friend’s nieces was mugged by the most polite Frenchmen, much better than those brutish Americans.

Hah, and you mock statistics. What a clown.

98

jet 11.04.05 at 1:26 pm

Slocum,
You might also note that the much more progressive Europeans haven’t adopted any affirmative action for immigrants, they’ve taken a more libertarian stance that all should be treated equally. But creating quotas for minorities in as prejudiced a society as France might help make a difference.

99

soubzriquet 11.04.05 at 1:26 pm

“And yet, the societal problems at the base of the Parisian riots seem much more deeply embedded …”

That is an astonishingly strong statement to make without any sort of support offered.

100

abb1 11.04.05 at 1:26 pm

It’s difficult to compare American cities and European cities: in the US the underclass is usually locked in the cities, and in Europe typically locked out.

101

soubzriquet 11.04.05 at 1:36 pm

slocum — looks like you had partially addressed my concern as I was writing it.

Your response does, however, choose view these policy decisions as fairly superficial. On the other hand, if you take the view that these sorts of policies and legislation are instead symptomatic, in that they stem from deep seated societal problems, there is no reason to believe that this is easily solved. I believe this could be at least argueg, but lack the background information to do it properly.

re: `throwing money’ I don’t know that the US has ever made a serious enough attempt at a welfare system to draw conclusions about how it might or might not work (as opposed to even Canada, let alone some EU states). Not arguing one way or another about what *ought* to be done, here, and will concede that particularly effective seeming (in whatever sense) programs in EU are not in countries that are dealing with large immigration numbers, as far as I know. Not exacly sure what conclusions could be drawn, and there is a lot of detail I am probably ignorant of here!

102

roger 11.04.05 at 1:52 pm

Slocum, ah, a sentence we can agree on: “In the case of high U.S. prison populations, I can point to legal changes that, if adopted, would make a significant difference (namely, the end of prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes, and the repeal of mandatory ‘3 strikes’ laws)…”

As for whether the U.S. crime rate is higher than Lesotho’s or lower than Sri Lanka’s — who cares? The comparison that counts is the imprisonment rate, and the imprisonment rate in the U.S. used to be comparable to the imprisonment rates in the rest of the world. In 1970, in the U.S., we incarcerated around 300,000 people. Then the 70s and 80s crime rates struck. While much of this had to do with banning drugs, bracketing that, one can see that incarceration rates would rise. But they rose even as crime fell in the nineties. They rose until we have the top incarceration rate in the world. If incarceration rates rise when crime is rising and rise when crime is falling, the problem isn’t crime — the problem is the tendency to incarcerate. Your argument seems to be that, even with A higher crime rate, Europeans still don’t feel that the price of civil peace should come at the cost of an abuse of jail time. Good for the Europeans. The mirror argument, that European crime rates are higher because they don’t lock up people at the American rate, fails, because European rates would have to be 5 times higher than American rates to justify that argument, since the U.S. has a rate of lockup 5 to 7 times higher than the average in Europe.

So: any way you look at it, the American rate is extraordinarily bad. And, to use another worry that you have about the French, the best way to undo the gains of the civil rights era is to create a population that is disenfranchised at a high and increasing rate. Moslems in France are not assimilated into the system. Soit. Well, neither are ex convicts in Miami. As the population of them swells, you reproduce the conditions you are deploriing in France.

103

John Emerson 11.04.05 at 1:52 pm

And fuck you too, jet my friend!

I realize that you think that if you win your argument here that the world will be changed, but I’m sitting here in my underwear playing by blog rules! Eat your heart out, asshole.

I don’t trust your statistics, and I brought forward anecdotal evidence because, in fact, I have it and it’s evidence! But I’m not in a position to do a literature search so I use litotes, sarcasm, and palindromes. (Your assumptions about my acquaintances’ social statuses are very, very blog-rules-ish too, no? But OF COURSE I only know jet-setters and elite. It comes from the fact that I’m a multi-millionaire)

I’m aware that much of Western Europe is declining toward the American standard, but this is perceived as a decline.

104

Uncle Kvetch 11.04.05 at 2:17 pm

Slocum, I think we’re veering into apples & oranges territory here: i.e., comparing the US incarceration rate with the lack of ethnic/racial integration in France. Wouldn’t the more logical comparisons here be: (1) the relative rates of incarceration in the two countries; and (2) the relative degree of ethnic/racial integration in the two countries? On the first, the evidence is clear. On the second, I wouldn’t assume that France is necessarily in any worse shape than we are, although the specific dynamics in the two countries are obviously different.

In other words, pace Jet, I don’t proceed from the assumption that France is any more (or less) “prejudiced” a society than the US–and I’ve spent several years in France.

To sum up, Slocum, if it’s simply the characterization of the US as a “broken society” that you object to, you’d do better to make the case that it’s unwarranted, instead of attempting “We’re not the broken ones–they are!”

105

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.04.05 at 3:30 pm

“But they [incarceration rates]rose even as crime fell in the nineties.”

This sentence reveals why you are having so much trouble analyzing the issue. Try: “Crime fell in the nineties (at least in part) because incarceration rose” and suddenly everything looks a lot less mysterious.

106

Ray 11.04.05 at 4:11 pm

Slocum, why did you read roger’s “ex-convicts” as “African-Americans”?

107

stormy 11.04.05 at 4:13 pm

y81,

Try using Google scholar. For an address use:

http:scholar.google.com

Then do a search using: international crime rates.

The results are much better–actual work in progress. I use scholar.google when I want to do real research.

I did not use scholar.google.com for the crime rates. I was just messing with slocum. I get annoyed when people start pumping up their country at the expense of other countries.

Anyway, there is an issue on exactly what metric to use and how to apply it. Slocum’s link did try to address that issue, but the study itself seemed thin to me. Within any given country, there is a wide variability, depending on a number of factors.

Offhand and very uninformed, I would say you are correct about England.

108

Uncle Kvetch 11.04.05 at 4:17 pm

Because crime has declined, there is no where near the political mileage running as a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” tough guy that there was 10 or 15 years ago.

You’re half right on this: There’s little mileage to be made by the “tougher on crime” stance at this point because there’s far less fear of crime now than there was, say, 15 years ago–and because sentences have become so severe that there’s precious little wiggle room left. The converse doesn’t follow, however. There’s still enormous political mileage to be gained from “my opponent is soft on crime.” The “tough” crowd have so dominated the debate that it’s extremely difficult for any politician to advocate lowering the incarceration rate without getting pegged as being “soft.” I don’t know why you think this will somehow magically change in the near future in a way that will bring incarceration rates down.

Here in New York State–home of some of the most ridiculously draconian drug-related sentences in the country–we’ve been told repeatedly for a good 15 years now that “everybody knows” the Rockefeller Laws are a miscarriage of justice, there’s a “bipartisan consensus” that something must be done, our Republican governor has repeatedly pledged to overhaul them–and nothing has changed. That should tell you something.

But it seems to bear little resemblence to the relationship of muslim immigrants to the rest of French society.

Um, well yeah, it does–because African-American blacks are neither immigrants nor Muslims. They’ve also been present in the country for hundreds of years, versus decades in the case of North Africans in France. All I’ve been saying is that it’s complex on both sides and the two situations aren’t cleanly analogous in a way that would allow one to say “It’s better here” or “It’s better there.” You, on the other hand, seem hell-bent on arguing that it is better here, and I’m afraid you’re going to need more than your personal impressions and an article from the American Enterprise Institute to convince me.

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y81 11.04.05 at 4:29 pm

Well, stormy, that is an interesting link and leads to some interesting articles. My brief survey of the literature seems to show that (i) the U.S. is in the middle of the pack when it comes to overall crime rates and (ii) no one has any very clear answers as to what social variables might explain national differences in crime rates. However, I hope the commentators here don’t adopt the tone of moderation and agnosticism that the foregoing sentence would suggest: what a bore that would be!

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John Emerson 11.04.05 at 4:50 pm

http://www.wfu.edu/~cyclone/

Cyclone Covey: an illegitimate paradigm.

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John Emerson 11.04.05 at 4:50 pm

Wrong site, sorry.

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Slocum 11.04.05 at 6:05 pm

Ray: why did you read roger’s “ex-convicts” as “African-Americans”?

Because roger brought up ex-convicts in Miami in the context of disenfranchisement — the disenfranchisement of African American ex-cons in Florida was recently a cause celebre (all-in-all, a reasonable inference, I think).

Kvetch: Here in New York State—home of some of the most ridiculously draconian drug-related sentences in the country—we’ve been told repeatedly for a good 15 years now that “everybody knows” the Rockefeller Laws are a miscarriage of justice, there’s a “bipartisan consensus” that something must be done, our Republican governor has repeatedly pledged to overhaul them—and nothing has changed. That should tell you something.

It tells me that the atmosphere is very different than when those laws were enacted and enjoyed broad support. In other places, changes have been made, for example:

http://talkleft.com/new_archives/001255.html

Um, well yeah, it does—because African-American blacks are neither immigrants nor Muslims. They’ve also been present in the country for hundreds of years, versus decades in the case of North Africans in France.

True enough, but the contrast between muslim immigrants in Europe and those in the U.S. is even more striking. Muslim-Americans are actually a bit more prosperous than the average American. I live not far from the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the country. Doesn’t seem to be even a remote chance of them rioting and setting cars on fire. One of their teams did beat my kid’s soccer team twice this year, though. Seems a bit unfair when the coaches shout instructions from the sidelines in Arabic ;)

All I’ve been saying is that it’s complex on both sides and the two situations aren’t cleanly analogous in a way that would allow one to say “It’s better here” or “It’s better there.”

No, I’m the one who’s been arguing that the high incarceration rate is far from the whole story, that it’s not an indicator of a ‘broken society’ — that the situation is complex.

You, on the other hand, seem hell-bent on arguing that it is better here, and I’m afraid you’re going to need more than your personal impressions and an article from the American Enterprise Institute to convince me.

The link above is from ‘talkleft’ — does that make you feel warmer & fuzzier? Yes, I do happen to think that the problems facing EU countries (demographics, need for economic reform, struggles with integrating immigrants) are more daunting than those facing the U.S., but it’s certainly not ‘better here’ in all respects.

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gr 11.04.05 at 6:55 pm

#97 “Given that you live in Portland and have friends that either visit or live in Europe, I’m guessing they aren’t the lesser well-heeled variety of Europeans. Hard to get mugged in your limo or robbed in your gated community.”

Gated communities are very much an American invention. I had never seen a gated community anywhere in Germany (where I spent the first 30 years of my life) before I came to study in North America.

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Uncle Kvetch 11.04.05 at 7:08 pm

In other places, changes have been made, for example:

I hadn’t been aware of the change in Michigan, and it is definitely good news. You may be right that there’s an emergent groundswell of revulsion at draconian mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes. I should say, I hope you’re right.

True enough, but the contrast between muslim immigrants in Europe and those in the U.S. is even more striking.

Again, apples and oranges. I will grant that, all other things being equal, the US has a better record of integrating immigrants overall that Western Europe–like several other nations around the world, the bulk of our society is immigrant-descended. But the Muslim population in the US, unless I’m mistaken, is mostly a result of recent immigration that’s largely from the professional classes; in sharp contrast to a place like France, we’re not talking about a population of unskilled workers who were invited in to work the assembly lines when times were flush, and then left high and dry. A better comparison might be Mexican-Americans, whose socioeconomic situation is far less positive.

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y81 11.04.05 at 10:12 pm

Well, uncle kvetch, I recognize your desire to believe that America is always worse than the sort of sophisticated place where someone as special as you would be truly comfortable, but I must say, the idea of eight days of riots in a Mexican American neighborhood in America is pretty inconceivable.

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Uncle Kvetch 11.05.05 at 9:28 am

Well, uncle kvetch, I recognize your desire to believe that America is always worse than the sort of sophisticated place where someone as special as you would be truly comfortable,

Well, y81, since you clearly know about things going on in my head that even I’m not aware of, there’s no point in me wasting my time addressing you. Just carry on debating the imaginary Uncle Kvetch in your head.

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Nabakov 11.05.05 at 10:51 am

Incidentally whenever someone mentions the Paris riots, it’s worth remembering the death toll is nowhere even close yet to the 52 that died in the 1992 Rodney King-triggered LA riots.

Boy, was that an example of “…the societal problems at the base…” and “…deeply embedded…”

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Chris Bertram 11.05.05 at 11:01 am

Indeed. The deaths of the two teenagers in the electricity sub-station which started the French riots are the only ones so far.

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Peter H 11.05.05 at 3:08 pm

Slocum,

Personally, I see America’s incarceration explosion as a major social problem in itself. It has tremendous human costs, not only for the individuals incarcerated, but also for those connected to them (e.g. children who suffer the incarceration of a parent) and the communities in which they live in. I cannot see how rising incarceration has a positive effect on social capital in inner-city neighborhoods.

Joshua Burton’s comment about prison time becoming a badge of honor in certain subcultures is very interesting. I can think of other unintended consequences of incarceration. For example, it is likely that the more friends and family you have in prison, the less frightening of a place prison becomes, and the less of a stigma is associated with going to jail. Thus, the increase in incarceration may, in the long run, reduce the deterrent effect of incarceration.

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Charlie B. 11.05.05 at 6:23 pm

It is interesting to read this thread for the assumptions people make. Nobody seems to have (or want to bring into play) an informed understanding of federalism – the prison population in the US is the total of the prison populatiuons of 50 separate judicial systems. Each of those systems has different characteristics, and, very importantly, different histories. They also have many other non-custodial features that need to be set alongside their use of prison. All the rhetoric and pseudo-sociological outrage above really mean nothing.Incarceration has costs for individuals, for their families, and for everyone through tax. It is possible to say they are appropriate to be paid, and for those arguments to be endorsed democratically. British people might be seen as simply unwilling to pay the collective cost of constructing jails to hold the people they wish to see sentenced – hence the absurd argument for shorter and non-custodial sentences because we have no prison space – not because those are appropriate sentences.I can imagine what the reaction might be to the suggestion but I shall make it nevertheless – in Britain we jail far too few of our criminals, and the cost is paid by those who have been the victims of crime.

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Slocum 11.05.05 at 6:59 pm

I cannot see how rising incarceration has a positive effect on social capital in inner-city neighborhoods.

Nor can I. But it is clear that the stocks of social capital in inner-city neighborhoods have improved even while incarceration rates have risen. Inner-city neighborhoods were not only generators of crime and associated disorder but principal victims. The changes in the New York crime rate that have occured since the early 90’s have made inner-city neighborhoods far more livable than they were.

So, yes, incarceration rates are a big problem, but they haven’t not resulted in a vicious cycle that has made inner-city neighborhoods worse off–in most American cities they are better off.

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rollo 11.06.05 at 2:52 am

“the idea of eight days of riots in a Mexican American neighborhood in America is pretty inconceivable”

Orale.

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Chris Bertram 11.06.05 at 3:44 am

Nobody seems to have (or want to bring into play) an informed understanding of federalism – the prison population in the US is the total of the prison populatiuons of 50 separate judicial systems.

Well we do bring into play an informed understanding of _addition_ . When you add those numbers up — as the US Department of Justice (and not us crazed pinkos at CT) did — you get another number, and it is a very large one.

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Charlie B. 11.06.05 at 5:07 am

And that’s all it is. A number. The US Federal departments produce a lot of them – often for no apparent good reason (though usually in connection with budgeting for federal functions and calculation of state allocations as a portion of a fixed whole). Any understanding of the significance of the number must begin with looking at the nature and histories of individual state judicial systems. It is rarely a pretty story, but then criminality isn’t very nice. It is important to consider the roles of legislative involvement with sentencing tariffs, election of judges, and powers of juries, against a background of specific and localised understanding of concepts like justice, proportionality, and victim rights. This needs to be informed by appreciation of how specific outcomes (including the use of the death penalty) are fashioned by complex interaction between popular will and constitutional provisions, as frequently interpreted by the highest state and federal courts. I simply don’t think any of the comments in this thread begin to connect with the reality of the US prison system, and the speculative sociology based on simple sums and liberal sensibilities is worthless. I would take from the kind of analysis I propose a conviction than we jail far too few criminals here.

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Chris Bertram 11.06.05 at 5:37 am

Ah, one think I love about US conservatives and their British apologists like Charlie is that they rail against “moral relativism” but then plead the importance of local history, tradition and context when it suits them.

As for “failing to connect with the reality of the US prison system”, I refer you to Kieran’s comment (#15) and the links contained therein.

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Charlie B. 11.06.05 at 5:56 am

#15 is another set of statistics. I am not aware that I had railed against moral relativism, but if I did, I cannot see how that would contradict an emphasis on the factual reality of local determination of criminal systems in the USA. But I guess I was implicitly suggesting that if the prison population of the USA is deemed too large, then what steps are required, and could be envisaged, that would in the future reduce it? I could suggest some of the following alone, or in combination (though I personally would not be in favour of them): (a) taking away from juries their sentencing powers and reassigning them to judges; (b) ending the election of judges and substituting a system like that of the UK; (c) removing the power of legislatures to pass mandatory sentencing regimes; (d) removing the power of legislatures to pass repeat offender laws (like California’s so-called “three strike” law); (e) comprehensive state by state reconsideration of maximum penalties in the light of a reevaluation of the purpose and goals of incarceration; (f) removal of the rights of victims to address courts at the sentencing stage; (g) requirement that multiple sentences should always run concurrentlt; (h) much more lenient parole regulations; (i) paying much less attention to the views of crime victims. Which of these would you go for (forgetting how you might achieve such changes for the moment).

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abb1 11.06.05 at 8:47 am

Charlie, the steps that are required are in the realm of economics, not criminal system. The economic system needs the underclass. The underclass get alienated and rejects societal standards of behavior. That’s what needs to be addressed, not juries and judges.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 11.06.05 at 2:45 pm

“comprehensive state by state reconsideration of maximum penalties in the light of a reevaluation of the purpose and goals of incarceration”

The problem is that you don’t have anything near a consensus about what the “purpose and goals of incarceration” are.

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roger 11.06.05 at 3:36 pm

Slocum, your New York example is a good example –but not of what you think. Compared to the rest of the country, the slowdown in crime in New York was accompanied by the third smallest increase in incarceration in the country. This is from the Public Policy Institute’s report in 2000 comparing New York and the highest incarcerator, Texas:

“During the 1990s, Texas added more prisoners to its prison system (+98,081) than New York’s entire prison population (73,233) by some 24,848 prisoners. This means that the number of prisoners that Texas added during the 1990s was 34% higher than New York’s entire prison population. While Texas had the fastest growing prison system in the country during the 1990s, New York had the third slowest growing prison population in the US. Over all, during the 1990s, Texas added five times as many prisoners as New York did (18,001). Yet since 1995, the study found that the percentage decline in New York’s crime index was four times greater than Texas’ percentage decline in crime and New York’s crime rate dropped at twice the rate of the Lone Star State. Texas’ current incarceration rate (1,035 per 100,000) is 80% higher than New York’s (574 per 100,000), yet Texas’ crime rate (5,111 per 100,000) is 30% higher than New York’s (3,588 per 100,000). In 1998, Texas’ murder rate was 25% higher than New York State’s rate.”

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Peter H 11.06.05 at 7:15 pm

Slocum, I am skeptical of your assertion that social capital and living conditions in most inner cities are increasing. Is this true near where you live? Are conditions in Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac, et al. improving?

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Charlie B. 11.07.05 at 3:03 pm

“Charlie, the steps that are required are in the realm of economics, not criminal system. The economic system needs the underclass. The underclass get alienated and rejects societal standards of behavior. That’s what needs to be addressed, not juries and judges.” I cannot believe anyone can say somthing so utterly without sense or utility. But it is an all too inevitable outcome of the reductionism and determinism that has gone before.

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Charlie B. 11.07.05 at 3:07 pm

The problem is that you don’t have anything near a consensus about what the “purpose and goals of incarceration” are. (Sebastian). Indeed, and this topic makes no sense without that — so the whole of the preceding thread has rested on assumptions that have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

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