Incarceration Again

by Kieran Healy on May 26, 2006

The comments in my recent post about U.S. incarceration rates got a little bad tempered: some people (I’m looking at you, jet) didn’t like the figure, because it included countries that are not exactly model states. Some followup below the fold.

The point of the figure was to bring home that the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, bar none. To illustrate this is not to explain it. So sure, many countries with lower incarceration rates are also not nice places to live, to put it mildly. If you have the highest rate of incarceration in the world that leaves a lot of countries looking better on that measure, even if many of them do so for bad reasons (such as being a failed state, or having the whole country be a kind of prison instead). So, just for the sake of it, here is the same data again, with the comparison restricted this time to basically well-functioning advanced capitalist democracies.

(PDF available also.)

By the standards of comparable countries, the U.S.’s rate of incarceration is frankly astonishing.

A second objection was, this only tells a little bit of the story, to which we can say, of course. Jet asks, “Yeah, and where would the US fall in a graph showing percentage of the population victimized by crime?” Cross-national comparisons of crime statistics are hard, because of reporting and definitional issues. (This is true in the U.S. between states, too, or even between different cities and neighborhoods.) Your best bet is crimes involving a dead victim, because that’s most often reported. So here is the same list of countries ordered this time by the rate of deaths due to assault in 1999, the most recent year I have available.

(PDF available also.)

As you can see, the U.S. is again a remarkable outlier. If you want to look at the time series for this statistic from 1960 to 2000 or so, here it is from a post last year. As you’ll see there, the U.S. is not only always #1 on this measure, it is also by far the most variable: the 1999 value is actually the lowest since the mid ‘60s.

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{ 83 comments }

1

Martin James 05.26.06 at 6:27 pm

Its hard to know what to make of this.

One could quibble about adjustments for age, immigration. Or one could say its a function of putting blacks in jail for drug use. Or one could say less than 1% of the population everywhere in the world is incarcerated so who cares.

But the deeper question is about the optimal level of social integration.

Is a peaceful and happy society better or one with more conflict?

Peaceful you say, oh yea, wanna fight about it?

2

ba 05.26.06 at 6:34 pm

this seems pretty conclusive to me Kieran. Argue as you will about whether the USA is facing some set of unique circumstances among industrialized nations – and that may be true – but it seems a true piece of exceptionalism and one worthy of explanation. Any thoughts CT folks

3

a different chris 05.26.06 at 6:57 pm

Jeebus. Please put the nasty states back in, ‘kay?

4

Brett Bellmore 05.26.06 at 7:53 pm

Just off hand, I wonder how those figures look if you “normalize” the rates to account for racial and ethnic differences. The US is far more ethnically diverse than the rest of those countries, after all.

There are several ways in which this could adversely effect our crime rate, of course, ranging from simple inter-group friction, to different ethnic groups having different proclivities towards violence.

How’s the crime rate in US cities that are demographically similar to some of those nations?

5

Paul du 05.26.06 at 8:07 pm

The two new graphs have discomfiting implications. If we consider them along with the NRA’s regular claim that many more murders would occur were it not for the second amendment. Given how astonishingly high the homicide rate is here, the incarceration rates and the NRA’s claim together suggest that, were it not for guns used defensively and for incarceration, we would have murder rates so staggering that it would need a log scale to get US figures on the same chart with other countries. From this perspective, there must be a level of demented, psychopathic tendencies bubling beneath these heavy restraints across society out of proportion to all other countries, a terrifying potential for mayhem that is only kept in check by the heavily armed citizenry and draconian sentences, which instead makes us look merely aberrant. Thus the gun lobby and the prison lobby (in the States, alas, there is one), for all their proclaimed patriotism, paint a picture of the patria that is far, far uglier than anything their opponents could dream.

6

Laura 05.26.06 at 8:09 pm

What about looking at poverty rates or income gaps? It occurs to me, and I’m no criminologist, that crime rates are often high when there’s a large gap between rich and poor (except probably in places where there’s a totalitarian government).

7

engels 05.26.06 at 8:37 pm

different ethnic groups having different proclivities towards violence

I know that white people have been historically responsible for most of the world’s violence, but, really Brett, do liberals like you always have to bring this up?

8

Donald Johnson 05.26.06 at 8:41 pm

Along the lines that Brett mentioned (though I wonder if he had a different group in mind), David Hacket Fischer in “Albion’s Seed” said, if memory serves, that southern culture is exceptionally violent.

I’m southern, btw, so don’t disagree with me if you know what’s good for you.

9

engels 05.26.06 at 8:43 pm

Kieran – I agree your new graph is more striking. But…

I wouldn’t concede that the incarceration numbers only tell us “a little bit of the story”, except in the trivial sense that no graph tells us “the whole story”. They tell us something very important: the number of people in the country whom the state has deprived of their liberty. A high number ought to be a matter of concern and, on the face of it, regret, before we think about its causes and what good it has bought us.

(Granted I think that the comparison with truly miserable places such as failed states and any country which is itself a “kind of prison” wouldn’t tell us anything useful.)

As for the crime rate, which some commenters on your last thread thought was essential “context”, I don’t see why it should be, if the matter under consideration is liberty. It’s doubtful that many crimes reduce liberty at all (eg. possession of drugs, prostitution, and depending on your politics, property crime.) If the point is that a high crime rate leads people to be fearful, and this reduces their liberty then okay, but (i) this implicates you in a richer conception of liberty and (ii) the crime rate is not the only factor which can have this effect. Also some people (some libertarians!) have extremely negative and limited conceptions of liberty in which it is essentially a right held against the state and obviously for them no crime reduces liberty. It hardly needs to be said that if protection from crime is thought of as another good, distinct from liberty, ie. security, then it is highly controversial to suggest that one can be traded off against the other.

Shorter “engels”: Incarceration is a distinct and important evil, albeit a necessary one.

10

soubzriquet 05.26.06 at 8:54 pm

Is the US really so much more ethnically diverse than these other countries? I suppose Canada is in some ways the most natural comparison, and Canada doesn’t have nearly the incarceration rate. I don’t know what overall diversity rates look like, but the places I’ve lived in both countries were similarly varying in diversity. By which I mean they both contain very homogenous and very diverse regions. If I recall correclty, Toronto is the most diverse city in N.A. (and, though not `proof’ of anything, has recently joined the race to the bottom in terms of violent crime statistics in north america — once the realm of US cities only). In any case, I don’t have the numbers — anyone have them handy?

It is very difficult to pull anything meaningful about `ethnic proclivities to violence/crime’ (or whatever you want to call it) from US statistics, since neither enforcement, nor prosecution, nor sentencing is uniformly applied across ethnicities here.

11

kevin 05.26.06 at 9:10 pm

brett belmore says:

The US is far more ethnically diverse than the rest of those countries, after all.

Not so. Canada and Australia are both extremely ethnically diverse. Canada’s population is about 18% foreign born compared to 11% in the US. Canada also has very significant numbers of aboriginal and native-born visible minority citizens.

12

Rich Puchalsky 05.26.06 at 10:23 pm

Is this really a mystery? The U.S. is a racist society with a long history of racial control through “anticrime” measures. Black people are 12% of the U.S. population and 44% of the imprisoned population; for Hispanics it’s 12% and 18%; for white people 69% and 35%. The question of how “ethnically diverse” countries are is meaningless in this context; the question is, do they use race as a method of social control?

13

Brett Bellmore 05.26.06 at 11:08 pm

“Also some people (some libertarians!) have extremely negative and limited conceptions of liberty in which it is essentially a right held against the state and obviously for them no crime reduces liberty.”

On the contrary, crimes clearly CAN impact liberty, whether they’re committed by the private sector or government. But we do have a “negative and limited” conception of liberty, for a very good reason: Accepting the existance of “positive” rights has roughly the same effect on moral reasoning that allowing division by zero has in mathematics.

14

T. Scrivener 05.27.06 at 12:35 am

While neither side has commented publicly on the split beyond an SMS to fans reading

“roughly the same effect on moral reasoning that allowing division by zero has in mathematics.”

Why? Very simply a right is just something you are morally entitled to. Negative rights imply that you are entitled to not having X done to you while positive rights entail that you are entitled to have X done to/for you. The difference is the mere presence or absence of a ~ ( tilde). Dramatic references to mathematics do not an argument make so lets try it again, what is so contradictory or confused about the concept of a positive right.

15

Bruce Baugh 05.27.06 at 12:53 am

Certainly the practical results of more commitment to negative liberty than in Europe are evident: we get negative health, negative lifespan, negative job satisfaction, negative social mobility, and as we see here, negative freedom from incarceration. And who could be negative about all that?

16

John Quiggin 05.27.06 at 1:30 am

While we’re in this general area, this study reported in JAMA claims to find poorer health for older people in the US than in the UK, at all levels of the income distribution.

I must admit, I find this a bit counterintuitive. I would have thought top quintile Americans had better healthcare than their British counterparts. Has anyone seen any more on this?

17

soubzriquet 05.27.06 at 2:52 am

16: I suspect lifestyle differences may account for that. Having access to the top available medical technology can only do so much, especially if you are trying to counteract decades of poor diet and exercise. Not that Britain doesn’t face some of the same challenges….

18

reuben 05.27.06 at 3:27 am

Following up on Canada, not only is it very ethnically heterogenous, it also has a hell of a lot of gun ownership, doesnt it? Yet still its death by assault figures are only a fraction of the US’s.

19

reuben 05.27.06 at 3:50 am

Brett: Your understanding of moral reasoning is as impressive as your grasp of ehtnic diversity in Canada and Australia. Look at the world around you. Now try it again without sneering and squinting your eyes. You’ll see that on the whole positive rights are like negative ones. If a society agrees to have them, they have them. If it doesn’t, they don’t. Just because the US is big doesn’t mean that it’s a model for the rest of the world. Other societies have very succesfully agreed on positive rights.

(As I think Alesina et al argue in their looks at differences in US v European conceptions of welfare, some of this may have to do with the timing of hte US consitution. It was written in – and remains relatively unchanged from – a time when civil and property rights were at the fore, and positive social rights were relatively unknown. The post-WWII European welfare state settlements, however, came at a time when social rights were much more a part of national discourses. And so, to various degrees in various nations, positive rights became part of the framework. And none of the nations with lots of positive rights have had a moral collapse. Really. In fact, the crime and incarceration figures we’ve been looking at might indicate quite the opposite.)

Re 16 and 17: I’m sure i saw a study a couple of years ago saying that the average 85-year-old Jamaican has a longer remaining life span than the average 85-year-old American, due to lifestyle. Jamaicans of that age still walk, apparently. Silly people. Would be interesting to see if, within a nation such as the UK, elderly urban dwellers have better health than elderly suburbanites. Diets would probably be very similar, but urbanites tend to walk more, I think.

20

abb1 05.27.06 at 4:14 am

It’s a mystery, really – I mean when you compare the US and Canada. It’s like something from the X-Files; there seem to be no obvious scientific explanation. Maybe it’s something in the water.

As far as I remember, Michael Moore’s explanations in Bowling for Columbine didn’t strike me as convincing.

21

south 05.27.06 at 5:55 am

Connect the dots.

Donald Johnson points out that the Southern part of the US has a traditionally more violent culture.

Abb1 asks what is going on with the lack of violence in Canada.

Looks like there’s a north-south gradient, folks.

So Kieran–your next project is to break out US rates by **latitude**. What percentage of bottom-rim states (Texas, Alabama, Florida etc.) is in jail, versus what percentage of top-rim states (Washington, Minnesota, Maine, etc.)?

Of course it’s hard because some Northern states ship their prison populations south (e.g. Connecticut was shipping its prisoners to cheaper incarceration in Virgina for a while–cruel and unusual punishment if anything is).

But that’s the kind of detangling project that a guy like you would love.

So I blame it on latitude. And latitude is a proxy for…? Beats me.

22

DC 05.27.06 at 7:31 am

I see France is way down there. This fits in with the general suspicion, which I imagine I share with most people around here, that the US has in some sense established a comprehensive incarceration state instead of a comprehensive welfare state.

The racial question is undoubtedly important, but it seems that the US’s rate of imprisoning whites would also put it streets ahead of the other countries on this chart. After all, the French, as is well known, have their own racial problems, involving the failure to integrate a minority fully into the economic, political and social structures of the country – complicated, in France, not in the US, by their status as recent immigrants, religio-cultural differences etc.

This is reflected in the fact that half of the French prison population are Muslims, compared to something like 8-10% of the population, comparable to or worse than the disproportionate racial figures in the US.

23

soru 05.27.06 at 7:37 am

Looking at the two graphs, the simplest explanation is:

1. rate of death due to assault tracks handgun availablity (see, e.g., UK vs Switzerland).

2. incarceration rates track rate of death due to assault (perhaps with some kind of biasing feature for a free and crime-oriented media).

Do the figures for rate of ‘death due to assault’ include assaults in prison?

24

abb1 05.27.06 at 8:03 am

…a comprehensive incarceration state instead of a comprehensive welfare state…

Except that they all are welfare states to a degree, including the US; and I don’t think Canada or France could be called ‘a comprehensive welfare state'; Denmark – perhaps, but not France.

This could be one of those things where a slight change in an underlying condition causes a jump to radically different equilibrium.

25

reuben 05.27.06 at 8:05 am

After all, the French, as is well known, have their own racial problems […] complicated, in France, not in the US, by their status as recent immigrants, religio-cultural differences etc.

I think there’s a flipside to this as well. What separates the US from other high immigrant nations is that in the US, there was extensive diversity before there was an extensive welfare state, whereas in Canada, Sweden, France, et al, the diversity is coming after the welfare state was already well-established. Alesina and others (including most famously in the UK, David Goodhart, the editor of Prospect) argue that this will lead to European countries becoming more like the US – ie less supportive of a strong welfare state.

As you imply, perhaps the US has dealt with diversity by establishing an incarceration state rather than a strong welfare state. I can’t see that happening in other developed nations as they negotiate rising diversity, though. Peter Taylor-Gooby argues that the presence of a politically powerful left in Europe means that it’ll be much harder to dismantle welfare provision in France etc than it was to forestall similar provision in the US. (There is loads of evidence that anti-welfare state American politicians used racial diversity as in their fight to keep the welfare state small.) And even in the UK, LSE criminoligist Tim Newburn argues convincingly that while New Labour has very willingly adopted the incarceration rhetoric of the US, when push has come to shove, it hasn’t been nearly so eager to adopt the reality (though numbers have gone up, I think).

26

Brett Bellmore 05.27.06 at 8:10 am

“Why? Very simply a right is just something you are morally entitled to. Negative rights imply that you are entitled to not having X done to you while positive rights entail that you are entitled to have X done to/for you.”

It’s elementary. Negative rights can be entirely fulfilled, simply by leaving you the heck alone. Respecting one negative right does not interfer with respecting another. On the contrary, respecting one negative right usually assists in respecting others.

Positive rights, on the other hand, entail obligations on the part of other people to act. And people only have so much capacity to act. As such, they compete. They compete against your right to act on your OWN behalf, they compete against other people’s positive claims against you.

Respecting one positive right, then, can entail violating another. It is this inherent potential for conflict between positive rights which make them similar to division by zero, because you follow one line of reasoning, you end up obligated to do X, another line, obligated to do Y, and you can’t do both. Just as division by zero allows you to prove, prove that 2=3.

And, of course, once you’ve accepted the notion of positive, rights, there is no end to them. Any desirable thing has the potential to be declared a “right”, and thus obligate other people. Food. Education. Medical care. All things capable of open ended expense, depending on their quality. All things which are in limited supply.

No, I stand by my point: Positive rights ARE analogous to division by zero.

27

Farrold 05.27.06 at 8:15 am

“Negative rights imply that you are entitled to not having X done to you while positive rights entail that you are entitled to have X done to/for you. The difference is the mere presence or absence of a ~ ( tilde).”

Surely there is a fundamental difference between the rule “stay out” and the rule “stay in”: with respect to buildings, “stay out” corresponds to no-trespass, while “stay in” corresponds to imprisonment. The difference is a negation, but there is nothing “mere” about it.

The difference between negative and positive rights is roughly the difference between keeping and taking — again generally regarded as rather different.

Perhaps positive “rights” should, for clarity, be called something else. There is no need for everything good to be called “a right”.

28

KCinDC 05.27.06 at 8:17 am

John Quiggin, the top quintile isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays the benefits are targeted a bit higher than that. Maybe start looking at the top vigintile. (No, I’m not honestly suggesting that this has anything to do with the health care results, but recent tax cuts haven’t really been helping people at the bottom of the top quintile much. People with $100,000 salaries may be rich, but they’re in a different universe from the people the money is flowing to now.)

South, I’m surprised states would be shipping lots of prisoners elsewhere, since the Census counts prisoners as living where the prison is, and those are the numbers used to determining representation. Ship too many prisoners south, and Connecticut will lose a representative to Virginia (whose residents especially benefit from the increased representation, since the prisoners can’t vote). I suppose Connecticut doesn’t have enough prisoners to make a difference.

There is a court case in New York about the same issue on an intrastate level, though. Two thirds of New York State’s prisoners are from New York City, but 91 percent of the prisons are in upstate New York, and that affects the drawing of legislative districts.

29

Brett Bellmore 05.27.06 at 8:20 am

“1. rate of death due to assault tracks handgun availablity (see, e.g., UK vs Switzerland).”

And then you get into inter-state comparisions here, and that falls apart.

I think we’d go a LONG way towards erasing that differential, were we to abandon this lunatic “war on drugs”, and modify our welfare systems so that they stop creating urban ghettos.

Unfortunately, we’ve been paying people to stay in places where their long term prospects for them OR their children ever becoming productive and self supporting are poor at best. I’d propose making public assistance, beyond a short stint, only available conditional on moving to someplace with a lower than average unemployment rate. Paying people to stay in an economically depressed area may make sense to the politicians ruling that area, who don’t want their people leaving, but it doesn’t make sense for the people. All it does is encourage the creation of a culture of poverty.

30

derrida derider 05.27.06 at 8:21 am

“white people 69% [of poulation] and 35% [of incarceration” – 12
“but it seems that the US’s rate of imprisoning whites would also put it streets ahead of the other countries on this chart”

As the rate of US incarceration generally is about four times the next contender’s (Spain), and whites are jailed at half this rate, that puts the rate of white incarceration at a mere double the rate of the next contender.

And yes, both Canada and Australia have more foreign born residents than the US, and are also probably more ethnically diverse than the US on most other measures.

What they both have is a narrower income distribution and, critically, higher social and economic mobility than the US’.

31

Brett Bellmore 05.27.06 at 8:24 am

“Perhaps positive “rights” should, for clarity, be called something else. There is no need for everything good to be called “a right”.”

That’s an excellent idea. I think the only reason people got to calling these things “rights”, is that they wanted to apply the existing understanding that you were obligated to respect rights. It started out as a rhetorical ploy, in other words, and only later evolved into a philosophical mistake.

32

Anders Widebrant 05.27.06 at 8:25 am

No, I stand by my point: Positive rights ARE analogous to division by zero.

Then I feel compelled to observe that you are an anarchist, not a libertarian, as you do not believe in the positive right to property ownership.

33

serial catowner 05.27.06 at 8:26 am

Two simple explanations for this.

First, when segregation was ended, new laws were enacted, keeping black men in jail and depriving them of the franchise.

Second, for the poor, there is no recourse to law. If you have ever been involved with the civil justice system, you know what I’m saying. (And just stuff it, Brett- like you would know.)

Society can only monopolize the use of violence if people have access to the law. With about a quarter to a third of us being too poor to go to court when we’re wronged, other ‘stuff’ is going to happen.

Of course, you would hardly ever need to go to law if you had a strong union, universal health care, and equal access to contract law. (That’s ‘gay marriage’ in the common tongue.)

‘Nuff said.

34

soru 05.27.06 at 8:42 am

The distinction I make is between _crash barrier_ rights and _lane marker_ rights.

A crash barrier sits on the edge of the road, where only an out-of-control car (or government) will run into it.

A lane marker tells drivers where the lanes are, which is information they need, but it is still their decision as to when to switch lanes – it is acknowledged that switching is an option.

Both are useful, but it would be counterproductive to confuse the two, otherwise you are likely to end up stuck in the inside lane behind a truck, or swtiching lanes to overtake and being surpised by the oncoming traffic.

35

Alex 05.27.06 at 8:46 am

Albion’s Seed: well, the idea that southern state culture is based on emigration from Britain is hardly new – Hunter S. Thompson was a strong supporter (not to mention a human data point himself), but he got it from Nelson Algren’s Linkhorns. It has superficial attractions, but the data contradicts it.

Not only is the UK on the line of best fit, it’s one of the lowest. And the nations in the group whose dominant narrative comes from British emigration – Canada and Australia – may be at the high end of the pack, but they are still spectacularly lower than the US. Despite being even closer to that model than the UK or even the US, they are still in the “normal” group.

36

Matt 05.27.06 at 9:03 am

Out of curiosity does anyone have good numbers on the “ethnic diveristy” of Canada, Australia, and the US? From the 2001 Candian census page it looked to me that the “visible minority” population of canada was about 13%, which would put that well below the level in the US, but I’m not sure I was reading the charts correctly. Australia seemed to have a very high percentage of people w/ “at least one foreign-born parent” but that doesn’t necessarily lead to ethinic diveristy in an interesting sense since this was true even during the “white australia” period- a period that didn’t end that long ago. Canada and the US seem to have roughly comperable rates of immigration of people from countries that would likely make them count as “visible minorities”, though the mix of countries is different (for obvious reasons.) I have worse data on Australia but it still seems to have a somewhat higher rate of “white” immigration compared to Canada or the US. Again if anyone has good numbers I’d be interested to see them, though I don’t know that this by itself explains much about the issue in question.

37

DC 05.27.06 at 9:09 am

dd,

“that puts the rate of white incarceration at a mere double the rate of the next contender.”

I’d say that’s enough to say that the US would be “streets ahead” even if there was no disproportion between white and other incarceration rates.

Brett,

“Negative rights can be entirely fulfilled, simply by leaving you the heck alone. Respecting one negative right does not interfere with respecting another. On the contrary, respecting one negative right usually assists in respecting others.

Positive rights, on the other hand, entail obligations on the part of other people to act.”

It seems somewhat eccentric given the particular subject of this thread to say that negative rights can be respected without violating other negative rights. Respected, perhaps, but not enforced. Do citizens not have a positive right to have their negative rights protected, thus placing obligations on others, via the state? Would we say that a state that made no effort to do so was respecting the rights of its citizens? It seems that the right not to be killed may clash with the right not to be imprisoned – two forms of the right to be left “the heck alone”.

38

Matt McIrvin 05.27.06 at 9:44 am

Well, the culture of the modern UK isn’t the same as the culture of Britain in the 1600s and 1700s; perhaps that was more like what we’re seeing today in the Southern US?

The example of Canada is a better counterexample, though. I’m sure all these various national cultures do have British origins to some degree, but the differences in how they came out have to be explained some other way.

39

Rob 05.27.06 at 9:51 am

“Then I feel compelled to observe that you are an anarchist, not a libertarian, as you do not believe in the positive right to property ownership.”

Let’s put it another way: a right to be left the heck alone would not be the same thing as a right to have your stuff left the heck alone, and indeed the two would conflict as soon as anyone thought that they liked the look of some of your stuff, and fancied walking off with it.

40

Matt McIrvin 05.27.06 at 9:53 am

I think we’d go a LONG way towards erasing that differential, were we to abandon this lunatic “war on drugs”, and modify our welfare systems so that they stop creating urban ghettos.

Unfortunately, we’ve been paying people to stay in places where their long term prospects for them OR their children ever becoming productive and self supporting are poor at best.

Aren’t several Western European countries, if anything, worse about the creation of ghettos than the US? If that’s a large part of the explanation, why aren’t they as badly off when it comes to overall rates of violent crime and incarceration? One could say that our ghettos are worse because there’s more violence there, but that’s begging the question.

41

Matt McIrvin 05.27.06 at 10:01 am

…As for US/Canada comparisons, the attempts at broad surveys I’ve seen (such as the World Values Survey) suggest to me that the differences in individual mores and opinions between the US (considered as a whole) and Canada are actually not that large. There’s a larger gap between Canada and the UK, which is culturally more like a Continental European country: if I recall correctly, people in the UK have more social-democratic, culturally liberal/rationalist attitudes about things, though not as much so as on the continent. (Australia was even more like the US.)

Now, it’s possible that if they broke out the Southeastern US as a separate region, they might get very different answers. But the similarities between the US, Canada and Australia suggest to me that the greater levels of violent crime and incarceration here may have more to do with policy than with some ineradicable difference in the American soul.

42

Glenn 05.27.06 at 10:18 am

South (#21)-

It’s not that hard, is it?

Latitude is a proxy for *degrees from the equator*.

(I thought CT had an educated readership?)

As for your hypothesis–yes

You will find strong confirmation as well by comparing the number of incarcerated residents of the southernmost 100 mile band of Canada, with the number of incarcerated residents of the northernmost 100 mile band of Canada. And so on for all bands in between–I think the correlation will be quite striking.

43

serial catowner 05.27.06 at 10:23 am

Well, a Canadian friend tells me gay people have been getting married in Canada for years. And he’s enjoying that de facto legalization thing.

So you can wonder- would enacting reasonable laws have anything to do with decreasing violence?

44

Z 05.27.06 at 10:36 am

Reuben: What separates the US from other high immigrant nations is that in the US, there was extensive diversity before there was an extensive welfare state, whereas in Canada, Sweden, France, et al, the diversity is coming after the welfare state was already well-established.
I don’t know about Canada and Sweden (though I would suspect you would be right at least for the latter). However, France has been a very diverse country since at least the beginning of the XIXth century and was more diverse in 1900 than the US was. At that time, the welfare state was largely absent.

abb1:It’s a mystery, really – I mean when you compare the US and Canada. It’s like something from the X-Files; there seem to be no obvious scientific explanation. Maybe it’s something in the water.

Maybe no obvious scientific explanation, but work can be done. If you are genuinely interested, send me an e-mail (olivier dot fouquet at m4x dot org) and I’ll suggest something.

45

LogicGuru 05.27.06 at 10:45 am

The bottom line for the out-of-whack incarceration rate and crime rate is the American notion that preventative measures are impractical, ineffective and inefficient. You don’t give pain-killers until patients are howling in agony; you don’t give aid until people are destitute, and then as little as possible. You don’t engage in social engineering to promote productivity and social harmony–you lock up the unproductive and disruptive.

You can show all the data you like, show the correlation between income gaps and the absence of a decent welfare state but no one is going to believe it because they’re convinced that a certain percentage of the population, most of them black, will inevitably be unproductive and disruptive, and that projects to try to fix that are sentimental, unrealistic and wasteful–money down the toilet. You just wait until they, inevitably, commit some crime–and anything will do–and they lock them up.

The psychological appeal is easy to see. Prevention doesn’t produce any dramatic, immediate, visible results. Playing cops and robbers is much more fun and throwing people in jail provides catharsis and a sense of accomplishment–bigger emotional bank for the buck than all those wimpy little social programs.

46

Jay Conner 05.27.06 at 11:04 am

Yeah, that’s getting closer.

Our prisons are simply the most effective graduate schools for training criminals that the world has ever seen.

Lock more people up = create more criminals. Build a structure which renews and enriches the criminal culture and produces economic benefits, and it will grow and expand. Take a look at the prison guard’s union in California for a stellar example.

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Bruce Baugh 05.27.06 at 11:41 am

Logicguru’s post suggests to me another way the rhetoric of negative liberty reinforces the problem. It sets up for this narrative: “We left them free to do anything they wanted, not tied to anyone’s apron strings, no comissars forcing them to be this or that, and the ungrateful bastards turned around and became criminals.” Having disavowed initial responsibility for our fellow citizens, there’s room for extra fury later when they refuse to levitate themselves to prosperity.

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Matt 05.27.06 at 11:44 am

Z- can you say more about France in 1900? I know that at that time the US was a major country of immigration and France was not, but don’t know for sure what you mean. The US, of course, also had a significant African-American population in 1900, a hispanic population (mostly made up of those who were here when the places they lived became part of the US) and some Asian population, though not a huge one (Chinese Exclusion act had been in place for a while by then.) You might be right, but I’d like to see more details about what you mean. For our purposes I suppose that “western european” largely counts as one “ethinic” group.

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Matt Stevens 05.27.06 at 12:04 pm

I think you can better understand the U.S. murder rate if you look outside the “first world” (rich democratic states). South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, for example, have more murders than the U.S., I believe.

I don’t think “ethnic diversity,” per se, has anything to do with the crime rate, but a legacy of slavery and segregation might be key.

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JohnLopresti 05.27.06 at 12:20 pm

I keep seeing neighborhood and family in the discussion. Contributors are drawing paradigms from far flung experiences and showing the composite fits with the graph.
I could understand readily a moralist’s looking at the US isolation and declaring our unethicalness the root cause of our problem.
A very affluent and insulated person might explain our riches afford us the luxury of a finer seine to enhance the civil ambience.
A modern historian might emphasize the wide disparity which exists between US social mobility compared with the degree of opportunity which exists in what the President is fond of calling ‘Old Europe’.
A capitalist imperialist might find the graph no surprise at all: we founded the New World precisely to have much more freedom and many behaviorally impaired individuals needed increased regulatory restraints placed upon them when they did not acclimatize here.
Perhaps the earth should have a vote in the surveys, as well: a neighbor who pollutes and harms soil, plants, air, should pay a tax and be restrained even in that neighbor’s own home and on the land around it.
Many curves, in sum, resemble the US isolation with respect to incarceration proportions; a very fruitful research project would examine many of those similarities.
With regard to the Brittish study of comparative health, one supposes munching fish and fries, eating one’s porridge and bread pudding, and quaffing amber ale much more salubrious than frozen dinner into the microwave as a US teen. But the JAMA published study, while deeply referenced, and interestingly so, is only one view, and the age group studied is far from elderly. I suspect it is a variation on the known superiority of Brittish health based upon the likelihood that if one is from England one is more scaphoid of tummy than a US office-bound counterpart.

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John Emerson 05.27.06 at 12:39 pm

“The US is far more ethnically diverse than the rest of those countries, after all.”

I’m not sure that this is true. France has Basques, Bretons, Alsatians, Arabs and other non-white colonials, and old refugee populations (e.g. from Russia or Poland). Spain has a somewhat similiar diversity.

What Brett means is that America has more blacks. (Hawaii is the most racially diverse US state, without a very high murder rate.

I think that the racist heritage of slavery (and the frontier, to a degree) is the answer, and a lot of the rest derives from that. Hostility to the welfare state and support for the drug war often have a racial ground (“welfare queens” and “crack peddlers” are automaticaly assumed to be black). The emphasis on armed self-defense does too.

The “Albion” book, as I’ve seen it paraphrased, is misleading because it ascribes differences to preexisting British difference. Certain British groups gravitate to the slave areas and to the frontier, but the American experience was decisive.

Raymond Gastil’s “Cultural Regions of the United States” finds that white-on-white murder rates correlate closely with “degree of Southernness” — highest in the South, and lowest in New England and the Upper Midwest. (Because of migration patterns, Northern places like Alaska, Ohio, and Wyoming have an intermediate degree of Southernness.)

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Z 05.27.06 at 12:57 pm

I know that at that time the US was a major country of immigration and France was not
Then there is a conflict between what you know and what I know. The works of Gérard Noiriel have in my opinion convincingly shown that France was a major coutry of immigration at least starting in the 1870s so that more people were of foreign ascent in France in 1900 than in the US (relative to population of course). It is possible that he is (and therefore I am) wrong but that was the origin of my comment.

For our purpose I suppose that western european counts as one ethnic group.
I was commenting on an assertion of Reuben that mentionned diversity, not only ethnic diversity. A more precise and fruitful discussion would require using terms more clearly defined of course. For the record, I would like to mention that I think to choose to count western european as one ethnic group seems extremely arbitrary to me, especially if that one ethnic group excludes Turks and/or Northern Africans.

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reuben 05.27.06 at 2:12 pm

Z, what you say strikes me as very interesting, but I would like to know more. When you speak of ethnic diversity in late 19th century France, are you speaking of visible minority ethnic groups, which is what recent scholars of the effects of diversity on welfare states (eg Banting, Kymlicka, Alesina, Taylor-Gooby) tend to focus on? For instance, Sweden has loads of Finns (something like 3.5% of the population, I think), but their presence in the country is thought to have far less potential effect on social solidarity than middle eastern immigration might.

What was the nature of the ehtnic diversity in France at the time you discuss? Was it rich in clearly visible minorities, or are we talking lots of, for instance, Jews and Poles and Italians? Because I think that might make a difference. (Please note, I’m not trying to impugn what you’re saying; i’m genuinely trying to learn more.)

I also wonder if you think that France’s high level of early diversity played a role in the country’s emphasis on solidarity. Do you know anything about this?

Cheers

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engels 05.27.06 at 3:40 pm

Just as division by zero allows you to prove, prove that 2=3.

Vintage Bellmore. Moral outrage brought on by a proof by contradiction. If Ann Coulter wrote a textbook on number theory it might read something like this. But Brett, didn’t anyone ever teach you about the Projectively Extended Reals?

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Z 05.27.06 at 3:47 pm

Reuben, I think the answers to some of your questions depend on what you call a “visible” minority. If I recollect correctly (I don’t have Noiriel books at hand), immigrants in France in the 1900s were predominantly Italians, Poles and Belgians. Were they visible in the sense of a different color? Mostly no. Were they visible in the sense of a different culture, language and religion? Most certaily yes (I insist on religion because at that time France was very much concerned about questions of separation of church and state so that Poles and Italians were seen by some secularists as a real menace to the French identity due to their fervor). Especially as some cities had an imigrant population of over 50%.

As to the question of diversity and solidarity as you asked it, Reuben, this is exactly the theoretical question Noiriel asks in one of his major work (State, Nation, Immigration). His hypothesis is that individuals identifying themselves as citizen of a particular state or nation is a part of a large sociological movement in which individuals participate mostly because it is in their interest to do so, especially because they can then benefit from social policies. So, basically, yes, Noiriel thinks social policies are very much linked to the construction of national identity.

For the record, though, I’d say that France (alleged) emphasis on solidarity does not ultimately stem from its diversity. Other factors seem more important to me.

I am no expert of those questions and I’m sure you are way more knowledgeable about them than me Reuben, but same as abb1, I guess, if you are interested in a further discussion, send me an e-mail and I’ll do my best to provide you some links or literature.

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abb1 05.27.06 at 4:03 pm

Brett, doesn’t your “negative rights” concept reject a possibility of a contract? Like, if I sign a contract with you, do you have positive right to hold me responsible?

If contract is not acceptable to you, then it’s not even anarchism, but just pure absurd; and if it is acceptable, then your whole concept falls apart, I’m afraid.

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John Emerson 05.27.06 at 7:50 pm

I’m sort of sick of the word “diversity”. This almost always means “black Americans, etc.” Ex-slaves. France has no ex-slaves, but lots of “diversity”, if that word means anything.

The “diversity” of the US is different not just because our minorities are different-colored than we are (“visible”). In N. Ireland and Serbo-Croatia physically virtually identical populations murder one another. It’s history. During most of American history black Americans had no rights, and before 1965 or so they didn’t have many. Historical enmity is what it was.

Somewhat similiarly with Native Americans and Mexicans, both initially involuntary Americans.

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Dan Goodman 05.27.06 at 8:00 pm

“What separates the US from other high immigrant nations is that in the US, there was extensive diversity before there was an extensive welfare state, whereas in Canada, Sweden, France, et al, the diversity is coming after the welfare state was already well-established.”

Very much not true for Canada. I can think of two major Canadian ethnic differences from the US: 1) A major non-anglophone group present before Canada became a political entity has been able to maintain its language. Not perfectly — but I believe Quebec City has the highest percentage of native French speakers of any city in the world. The Dutch in New York and New Jersey, the francophones in Louisiana, and the Spanish-speakers of the Southwest US and California have had far less success at preserving their ancestral language. 2) Canadians of Protestant Irish ancestry have been much more likely to support the Orange Order than Americans of similar ancestry.

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The Constructivist 05.28.06 at 12:04 am

Anyone find explanations by David Cole, Joel Dyer, Joy James, Marc Mauer, Christian Parenti, or other, like, experts, you know, compelling? I mean, it’s not like anyone has written books on this subject or that it’s news to anyone who’s been paying attention.

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liberal 05.28.06 at 12:22 am

brett belmore wrote, But we do have a “negative and limited” conception of liberty, for a very good reason…

Especially as many “libertarians” despise liberty.

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Kerim Friedman 05.28.06 at 3:09 am

Any explanation of America’s unusually high incarceration rates can not be separated from the racial composition of its prisons.

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reuben 05.28.06 at 3:25 am

Dan,

Of course you are right if you speak of “diverity”. I was falling Keith Banting (Candian) and other scholars in defining diversity (for the purposes of this issue) more along racial / visible ethnic lines, as this is how they tend to look at the question of how it affects a country’s support for the welfare state. My understanding is that they find that while the presence of a large francophone minority in canada may have weakened the sum total of support for the state, it did not weaken support for the welfare state – ie the strong provision of welfare. I admittedly haven’t read specifically into the francophone aspect of the equation – my understanding, though, is that the increased presence of different races/visible ethnicities has significantly more influence on support for the modern welfare state (among the white majority) than does the presence of whites who speak a different language or have a different religion. Anyway, that’s what I gather from Banting et al.

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abb1 05.28.06 at 3:36 am

You think the racial composition is significant (and I’m sure it is, in a sense), but what about the social-status (class) composition? What percentage of federal and state prisoners come from the bottom 13% of income earners?

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Z 05.28.06 at 4:30 am

the increased presence of different races/visible ethnicities has significantly more influence on support for the modern welfare state than does the presence of whites who speak a different language or have a different religion.

I would think it much more probable (for many reasons than cannot possibly be summarized in a post) that the relative importance of the skin color (with respect to any other differences) is strongly correlated to the absence of a welfare state, and more precisely that both stems from similar fundamental causes.

So yes, I would expect a correlation between the presence of visible minorities and weak welfare state, but no causative link. The correlation exists because for a minority to remain “visible” , it is necessary that the question of physical appearance be accorded importance. Else, the minorities quickly dissolve in the majority, as happened, say, for Poles in France and as is probably happening now for people of Arabic origin. Similarly, in societies where the definition of minorities is not predominantly through physical appearance, “minorities” can survive (and in fact even appear or reappear) for an absurdly long time (think about the japaneese burakumin or the german jews).

And I would expect the exception of this correlation, such as France, to satisfy a very discernable pattern.

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Matt McIrvin 05.28.06 at 11:05 am

A while ago Matthew Yglesias posted something that I think was pretty insightful: he said that if you actually looked at the criminal justice system in action, the main thing driving incarceration rates was how many prison cells there were. If the cells were there, judges and lawmakers would find ways to put people in them; if not, they’d find ways around it.

So maybe part of it is that we just built too many prisons.

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John Emerson 05.28.06 at 11:33 am

Prison cells are built why? Fear of niggers is the main reason.

Race is the driver, and race means niggers.

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Errol 05.28.06 at 6:31 pm

36 I have worse data on Australia but it still seems to have a somewhat higher rate of “white” immigration compared to Canada or the US. Again if anyone has good numbers I’d be interested to see them, though I don’t know that this by itself explains much about the issue in question.

One thing mentioned in the media here in NZ about AU immigration is that a large number of the ‘foreign-born’ population are from the UK and NZ. So it is a poor measure of diversity.

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Tracy W 05.28.06 at 7:22 pm

9. Engels – the murder rate graph Kieran published indicates that many of America’s own citizens are depriving their fellow citizens of their liberty – by killing them.

Incarcenation is not a very nice thing to do to people who comit crimes, but I don’t know of a nice alternative that takes into account the victim and the desire to stop the criminal from committing more crimes.

The US justice system doesn’t have much to do with justice, from what I’ve read and heard, but Kieran’s crime graph indicates that the US could have a high incarcenation rate even if the justice system was just (ignoring any second-order effects from a just justice system on the crime rate).

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Martin James 05.28.06 at 7:35 pm

John Emerson,

Why are Americans racist?

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matt d 05.28.06 at 9:39 pm

Reuben–
Kymlicka, at least, is mostly concerned with linguistic and national minorites, not so-called visible ones. I think many other theorists currently working on ‘diversity’ have similar concerns: religious minorities, national minorites, and so on. Racial diversity really does seem to be (understandably) a largely America preoccupation. And of course lingusitic and religious differences are potentially much larger barriers to integration and social cohesion than racial ones. Certainly this is true in the absence of a history of race-based slavery.

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clew 05.29.06 at 1:00 am

Accepting the existance of “positive” rights has roughly the same effect on moral reasoning that allowing division by zero has in mathematics.

Yep; leads to the invention of L’Hospital (‘s Rule), in which we treat both the upper and the lower (class). badoomp-ching.

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Harald Korneliussen 05.29.06 at 5:07 am

Brett: regarding the “war on drugs”, I remind you that other states also have that, if it means that posession and use of drugs are illegal. When people say they want an end to the war on drugs, they usually mean that they want to decriminalize use and possession of at least the “milder” drugs. That is very, very unusual in other nations.

Also, I agree with you that all fundamental rights are negative. I also agree with the one who said that private property is a positive right, and thus not fundamental (yes, I suppose I am an anarchist, then). However, there’s nothing wrong with negotiated, and thus conditional rights, whether they be for right to health care or right to use of land. We only have to take care that they are well specified and don’t contradict each other.

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John Emerson 05.29.06 at 11:27 am

Americans are racist because of the heritage of slavery, the Indian Wars, and the Mexican War. These are all relatively recent realities in historical time (less than 175 years ago).

By contrast, the subjugation of the Welsh, the Scots, and the Bretons took place gradually over a period of centuries much longer ago, and as I understand many of the subjugated peoples were granted full participation once they accepted defeat.

On the other hand, Basque and Catalan autonomy in Spain, and Irish autonomy in Northern Ireland, still remain live issues.

In none of these cases is visible race a real factor. Americans are probably not more racist than others of W. European descent. (Look at the cases of the aborigines in Africa, or the Turks in Germany. The Turks are even white). But as it happens, whatever racism there originally was was exacerbated by the fact that our victims in the XIXc and before were mostly non-white.

The Chinese and Japanese cases are a good test. They are voluntary Americans, not victims of conquest, and while they suffered legal disabilities and savage violence at times, ultimately they became mostly accepted as Americans (as did Jews). There is still a lot of residual anti-Asian racism, but it’s much milder than racism against historical victims.

Anti-Indian racism is mild to nonexistent in many places, but becomes intense near reservations and in urban neighborhoods where Indians are common.

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Quo Vadis 05.29.06 at 3:05 pm

Most commenters here seem to have ignored the obvious correlation between incarceration rate and violent crime as indicated by the rate of death due to assault. In the presence of a properly functioning judicial system one would expect exactly the indicated correlation.

This correlation also suggests that the war on drugs which is often put forward as a cause of the high incarceration rate may have less of a direct effect than many believe.

The better question is: Why is the rate of violent crime so much higher in the US than in other countries? This question is often discussed, but general agreement has been difficult to achieve.

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Kenny Easwaran 05.29.06 at 4:35 pm

Kieran, I accuse you of cherry-picking data because you hate America! You say you are looking at “basically well-functioning advanced capitalist democracies” but the facts are obviously biased. Where is Finland, say? And Iceland? And Belgium? And those notoriously violent Luxembourgians?

Once again, we see how liberals try to make America look bad, first by including “not exactly model states” and now by excluding data…

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engels 05.29.06 at 4:51 pm

Tracy – I said “it’s doubtful that many crimes reduce liberty at all”. You and Brett have both responded, essentially, that some crimes do reduce liberty. This doesn’t affect my point.

Many crimes do not reduce liberty. Perhaps the crime rate can be lowered by locking lots of people up, and perhaps this is the best thing to do. But anyone who believes this must think that other values are as or more important than liberty, because she accepts a reduction in liberty in order to reduce crime (which very often does not reduce liberty itself). This seems to me to go against the principles of avowed libertarians, many of whom say, for example, that liberty must never be sacrificed for the sake of any other value. That’s why I put this question to Jet, but, unfortunately, never got a serious answer.

BTW my incidental claim that some libertarians think of liberty as a right held against the state may well be wrong and I happily withdraw it.

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John Emerson 05.29.06 at 4:55 pm

Quo Vadis: those are two good, related questions, but I don’t see that yours is better.

Very few incarcerations indeed are for murder.

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Quo Vadis 05.29.06 at 7:52 pm

John Emerson,

I am using death due to assault as a proxy measure for violent crime that is relatively independent of level of enforcement or conviction. I can’t demonstrate the validity of that assumption, but I’ll assert that it is at least reasonable. Persons convicted of violent crimes account for almost half of the US prison population.

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/corrtyp.htm

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Martin James 05.30.06 at 12:16 am

John Emerson,

If I understand correctly, your model of racism in the US is primarily economic. In other words, in terms of labor (slavery) or land ( Indian and Mexican wars) racism was part of what helped one group ( the “whites”) to get stuff from the others ( the “blacks” and the “browns”) .

Seems roughly plausible but i’m not sure it captures all teh ups and downs in racism, particularly the racist association of African Americans with crime. This has hardly been a constant pattern from the slavery days to today. For example, is you look at the records of the Eugenics movement at Cold Springs harbor from the early 20th century, the negro was not at all the focus of degneracy – the Irish and the Eastern Europeans are the targeted groups.

Now again this could be a labor cost induced racism, but doesn’t seem explained by a grand “slavery and conquest” narrative.

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Harald Korneliussen 05.30.06 at 2:32 am

Martin James, if eugenicists didn’t target blacks as much as “degenerate” whites, I suspect that had to do with relative rates of intermarriage.

Also, eugenicist racism was and is subtly different from popular racism.

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Michael Mouse 05.30.06 at 6:23 am

I’m very much of the opinion that these graphs simply reflect the vast productivity gap between the USA and the rest of the world. The American penal system is clearly hugely more efficient in terms of output. Likewise, American violent assaulters are performing at a spectacularly greater rate than their un-American comparators.

Oh, and just to note in passing that if you turn the graph on its side (and reflect it), it’s very much a hockey-stick graph.

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John Emerson 05.30.06 at 7:06 am

Martin James — the forms of racism you mentioned didn’t last long and weren’t very pervasive. Racist feelings and acts against blacks, Indians, and Mexicans were pervasive and endure. The rationales for American racism vary and many racists don’t really ask themselves why they’re racist, they just go ahead with it.

My explanation was not primarily economic though there was an economic component. The three groups I mentioned became Americans by violence and against their will. (To a degree, voluntary middle-class Americans of Hispanic or black origin relate differently to American life, though poor Mexican-American and Central-American Hispanic immigrants have about the same standing as, or worse than, poor American Hispanics whose families were conquered in he XIXc.)

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unbveleivable 05.30.06 at 8:44 am

Let’s get a little perspective:

The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the prison population, or more than 2 million of eight million imprisoned worldwide.

About 1,222,000 of 1,983,000 incarcerated in 2000 are nonviolent, or 61.6%, not exactly a winning argument for the idea we are protecting society from the “worst” offenders.
(see:http://www.cjcj.org/pubs/punishing/punishing.html)

Remember also, many crimes defined as violent, may be bar fights, domestic disputes and DUI collisions—bad events perhaps, but not necessarily the work of career criminals.

An entrenched corrections industry, replete with glitzy Las Vegas conventions and lobbyists are a driving force in criminal justice expenditures and policy, if you can call lining your pockets a policy. And the conviction-driven prosecutors armed with mandatory sentencing who have taken judicial discretion away from the courts.
(see: Paul Craig Roberts, Presumed guilty, http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts12212005.html)

Releasing millions of americans back into their communities (96% of all prisoners are released), saddled with lifelong “felonies” that bar them from meaningful employment, six million children living as orphans of the prison boom, should not nake any of us feel safer.

Tonight on one of those interminable “cop” shows, I watched Las Vegas police incarcerate a women for stealing two packages of steak. She had a six month old child in the car, and they made clear the child would be placed in state custody, and probably into the foster care system, since she had no relatives to care for it. They had no choice either.

That should really work out well. Nice use of public resources.

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