One Percent of All American Adults are Incarcerated

by Kieran Healy on February 28, 2008

From today’s Times:

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report. Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars. Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

Here is an older post about how the U.S. incarceration rate compares to other countries. Here is Becky Pettit & Bruce Western’s (2004) ASR paper, with its frankly astonishing result that in the cohort born between 1965 and 1969, thirty percent of black men without a college education—and sixty percent of black men without a high school degree—had been incarcerated by 1999. Recent cohorts of black men were more likely to have prison records (22.4 percent) than military records (17.4 percent) or bachelor’s degrees (12.5 percent).Here is Bruce Western’s Punishment and Inequality in America, a superb analysis of how the prison system is now a key instrument not just of social control, but also social stratification, in America.

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{ 91 comments }

1

Jim S. 02.28.08 at 7:43 pm

Just a couple of comments:

There is certainly too many minorities in jail; however, would it be any better if the huge jail population were white? Any large numbers in jail is wrong.

The prison pop. continued to expand-in fact, received some of it’s greatest increases-under the Clinton administration, a man African-Americans referred to-and continue to refer to-as the “white African-American” and the “first black president.”

These statements come from a person who has never liked the “war on crime.”

2

Conor Foley 02.28.08 at 7:47 pm

It also puts the debate about comparisons between US and European unemployment rates and welfare levels into context

3

Steve LaBonne 02.28.08 at 7:53 pm

Jim- of course that would still be a huge problem, but I’m quite willing to say that the way the actual racial breakdown further disadvantages an already (and historically) disadvantaged group compounds the problem significantly.

4

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.28.08 at 7:56 pm

There is an interesting graph at Volokh showing the prison + mental institution rate from 1934 to the present. You can clearly see the changes in the mental institutionalization rules which took place in the 1970s, and it appears that the prison system has picked almost all of them up.

Which isn’t a great thing. But the good news (I think) from that graph is that the most fruitful area of research to reduce the incarceration rate may be found in how to deal with and follow up on people who would have been incarcerated mental patients pre-1970.

Also, since the number of silly drug incarcerations is astronomical, it suggests that if we could get the mental patient problem under control (not that I’ll say it is super-likely) we might have a non-drug prison population which is lower than historical norms.

5

Kieran Healy 02.28.08 at 8:09 pm

however, would it be any better if the huge jail population were white?

No, of course not. But if you want to understand the dynamics of incarceration in the U.S., you won’t get far if you ignore racial politics.

6

Anderson 02.28.08 at 9:18 pm

People who drop out of high school can either work at deadend jobs and pray they scrape by, or else become criminals.

Given the lack of respect for work and honesty in the U.S., as compared to respect for money, one would have to be pretty saintly to avoid the temptation.

7

abb1 02.28.08 at 9:36 pm

#6, I don’t know about the “lack of respect for work and honesty”, but I do suspect that, say, tripling the minimum wage would go a long way to reducing crime. And incarcerations – assuming there is a strong causal link between crime and incarceration. Though it might, at least in part, go the other way around too – more incarcerations causing more crime.

8

yoyo 02.28.08 at 9:37 pm

Yeah, if we ever spent a fraction of what we spend on jails on more effective and less horribly unpleasant medications for mental disease, crime not related to bongs or stealing money from one’s employer would mostly disappear.

9

SomeGuy 02.28.08 at 9:37 pm

Kieran Healy,

What is a better predictor of incarceration

Race or Family Status – Number of Parents?

Anderson,

I thought of another possibility, maybe they could get their GED?

10

RICKM 02.28.08 at 10:07 pm

someguy-

Hey, maybe they can just go to graduate school and get a fellowship to study. Or maybe they can just ‘not go to jail.’ Not going to jail will do wonders and will prevent them from going to jail.

11

Cryptic Ned 02.28.08 at 10:42 pm

I thought of another possibility, maybe they could get their GED?

That would help them get into college if they had enough money to go to college. Useless for getting a job, though.

12

SomeGuy 02.28.08 at 10:43 pm

RICKM,

Getting a GED really is quite a lot easier and much less expensive than going to grad school.

Not going to Jail would be a good strategy.

Surely there is some truth in what Anderson said.

But

Here -

http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#b51-0000

50 hours a week at 10 – 15 an hour lets say 12.50 an hour probably pays better than crime.

When you factor in the cost of Jail, it doesn’t seem like only saints, should be sticking to dead end jobs.

13

stoneyforest 02.28.08 at 10:56 pm

$12.50 an hour is a generous estimate. Unskilled entry level jobs that you can get with a GED tend to pay more like $8-9 bucks an hour.

14

Brett Bellmore 02.28.08 at 11:44 pm

“I do suspect that, say, tripling the minimum wage would go a long way to reducing crime.”

The minimum wage here in Michigan is $7.40 an hour. Three times that amounts to a bit over $46,000 a year. That’s the kind of pay you get in many skilled professions only after years of experience and seniority.

Tripling the minimum wage would dramatically INCREASE crime, by rendering the majority of the population legally unemployable, since they simply wouldn’t be able to do anything remotely worth the least they could legally be paid. The economy would almost immediately become dependent on black market labor, with numerous detrimental consequences.

As a libertarian, I recognize that a frighteningly large proportion of our prison population are locked away for acts which are, frankly, none of the government’s god damn business. Even more are imprisoned for acts which are legitimately outlawed, but only happened as a consequence of those illegitimate laws. It’s a moral outrage.

Still… even in the worst neighborhoods, the great majority of people somehow manage to refrain from committing these crimes, whether or not making them crimes was a legitimate act of state power. You simply can’t ignore the extent to which the imprisoned, regardless of their racial demographics, are there as a consequence of their own choices.

That’s the elephant in the room, when people start obsessing about those demographics. Those people locked themselves away, they didn’t have to commit those crimes. Most people in exactly the same circumstances didn’t.

So, while we desperately need to clear the statute books of victimless ‘crimes’, we must also confront the cultural factors that predispose some groups to chose crime as a way of life. Because chose it they do.

15

RICKM 02.28.08 at 11:49 pm

brett

Why don’t we just replace the labels on all the graphs that depict high incarceration rates for the US relative to other countries with ‘level of self control’ where ‘crime rate’ would normally be.

16

Brett Bellmore 02.29.08 at 12:01 am

That wouldn’t be a reasonable thing to do, there are multiple factors at work here. I’m simply urging that we not ignore one of them, the cultural predisposition to violate laws.

17

Bruce Baugh 02.29.08 at 1:28 am

Brett is never surprised when non-white people have to be confined for their own good and would only be alarmed if it were to appear that large numbers of white people are being incarcerated unfairly. Hope this helps.

18

gwangung 02.29.08 at 1:46 am

I’m simply urging that we not ignore one of them, the cultural predisposition to violate laws.

That’s what dictators called dissidents.

I suspect this is a vast oversimplification.

19

Brett Bellmore 02.29.08 at 2:06 am

“That’s what dictators called dissidents.”

Yeah, I’d say calling gang bangers “dissidents” is a vast oversimplification.

20

Cryptic Ned 02.29.08 at 3:39 am

Unskilled entry level jobs that you can get with a GED tend to pay more like $8-9 bucks an hour.

And 50 hours a week? Employers want people’s schedules to be as flexible as possible, so it’s more likely that you’re on call for 80 hours a week and end up working 30 hours a week.

21

Sortition 02.29.08 at 5:14 am

The paper linked to by Volokh is eye-popping. If the data presented is reliable, then the temporal coincidence of de-institutionalization in the late 60′s and early 70′s with the doubling of the murder rate is uncanny.

BTW, this is another reminder how flimsy is Levitt’s work on this issue and in general how ungrounded is his vainglorious tone regarding his econometric analysis.

22

Dan Simon 02.29.08 at 5:19 am

Kieran–it’s clear that you believe that too many people are in prison in America today. I’m curious, though–do you believe that there was ever a time when there were too few people in prison in America? Say, during the early 1970s, when violent crime rates were more than double what they are today, and incarceration rates much lower? Or do you believe that less incarceration is always better, irrespective of its effect on crime rates (possibly because you believe it has no such effect)?

This is a serious question–I’m open to arguments that today’s incarceration rates are excessive. I’d just like to know whether those arguments are based on the idea that incarceration itself is the problem, or the idea that incarceration has increased beyond its ability to provide sufficient marginal benefit.

23

gwangung 02.29.08 at 6:36 am

Yeah, I’d say calling gang bangers “dissidents” is a vast oversimplification.

Well, pointing to factors that lie within a particular group is an oversimplification.

Says as much about you as about them.

24

Daniel 02.29.08 at 7:23 am

the cultural predisposition to violate laws.

I am thinking of instituting a £5 book token prize for “Euphemism of the Week”, and that one would surely be a front runner.

The trouble here is that there is a big industrial complex grown up around these prisons. When you’ve created an infrastructure that size, you’ve created a powerful producer interest in favour of maintaining and expanding it. That’s what is going to make the politics difficult for reducing this population.

25

wissen 02.29.08 at 8:10 am

Two words: discipline and punish.

26

Roy Belmont 02.29.08 at 8:38 am

Two words: Malcolm X’s parents:

Earl Little was a member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and a supporter of Marcus Garvey. This got him into trouble with the Ku Klux Klan and after the family were threatened they moved to Lansing, Michigan. Little continued to make speeches in favour of UNIA and in 1929 the family house was burned down by members of the Black Legion.
In 1931 Little was found dead by a streetcar railway track. Although no one was convicted of the crime it was generally believed that Little had been murdered by the Black Legionnaires. Malcolm’s mother never recovered from her husband’s death and in 1937 was sent to the State Mental Hospital at Kalamazoo, where she stayed for the next twenty-six years.

Crime and mental illness, there you have it.
Happy last day of Black History Month.

27

abb1 02.29.08 at 9:06 am

Brett, higher minimum wage (and I meant the federal minimum wage, tripling it would make it $15-17/hour) would not make anyone unemployable. It’d bump the prices somewhat, but it wouldn’t triple the prices, because the low-end labor is only one component; the prices might go up by 50% or so on average. Also it’ll cause automation everywhere – self-cleaning toilets, strawberry-picking machines, fully automated gas-stations, etc. Fewer bad jobs that nobody wants, yes, but more good jobs. Instituting a maximum income would also help, of course.

28

cjcjc 02.29.08 at 9:16 am

abb1 – you desperately need Econ 101

Good jobs tend to be skilled jobs.
People earning minimum wage tend not to have skills.

Prices might go up 50% or so on average.
That’s OK is it?
In any event they won’t, as people will lose jobs to automation, as you say.

You have created a perfect recipe for high unemployment and higher crime.
Well done.

29

ajay 02.29.08 at 9:43 am

It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone who says something contravenes ‘Economics 101′ has never actually progressed beyond Economics 101 themselves, and therefore has a grotesquely simplistic and unrealistic view of economics; rather like the obsolete view of warfare of the Very Modern Major General, whose “military knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventure-y, Has only been brought up to the beginning of the century”.

30

Great Zamfir 02.29.08 at 9:55 am

cjcjc, while abb1 might indeed think a bit harder about the economics of his plans, I think you are missing a point too: automation can increase the productivity of low-skilled people, and an increase in minimum wage is a strong reason to invest in this area of automation.

31

abb1 02.29.08 at 10:05 am

cjcjc, I’m basing this on what I see in Geneva (except for the maximum income, of course), where I live now. It’s a special case, of course – a lot of internationals – but nevertheless, the minimum wage is about $18-20, crime is low, unemployment is low despite all those fully automated gas-stations and car-washes, prices are higher, but not that high. Two kilometers away, in France, the minimum wage is probably about a half of that, the border is pretty much open, but I don’t see any black-market labor; the law is enforced.

I know, it won’t work everywhere, but at least I have the evidence that it’s not impossible.

32

cjcjc 02.29.08 at 11:00 am

ajay – play the ball

great zamfir – good point

abb1 – you mean that the minimum *market rate* is about $18, as there is no statutory minimum in Switzerland is there?

How ironic it must be for you that a (relatively) small government, free-market economy such as Switzerland has been so successful that even the lowest paid earn $18 an hour.

What a great advert for capitalism.
Go Switzerland!

33

Nordic Mousse 02.29.08 at 11:01 am

brett:

“The minimum wage here in Michigan is $7.40 an hour. Three times that amounts to a bit over $46,000 a year”

Only if you make assume a workday of 24 hrs * 365 days per year.

(Didn’t you check this?)

34

abb1 02.29.08 at 11:46 am

cjcjc, there is no minimum in Switzerland, they negotiate and set wage scales on the cantonal and local levels.

How ironic it must be for you…

Why, I like de-centralized government. And it’s not that small, it’s just bigger on the local level and much smaller on the federal level. But that’s irrelevant to the incarceration thing. Or maybe not.

35

Brett Bellmore 02.29.08 at 12:52 pm

3*7.40 = $22.2 per hour
$22.2/hour * 40 hour week = $888 /week
$888/week * 52 weeks =$46,176 per year.

Not my fault if you can’t do math, Nordic. But then, mice aren’t noted for their math skills.

“I think you are missing a point too: automation can increase the productivity of low-skilled people”

Nah, I design automation, occasionally. It increases the productivity of the machines, not the people. We took an extrusion line that was producing one out parts an operator picked up and placed in a box, and then taped the box shut at a given count, and made it two out, and arranged for the parts to land in the box on their own, the operator didn’t become twice as productive. The machine did.

The idea that a guy packing boxes in front of a half million dollars of capital equipment is “producing” the entire output of that line is a politically loaded fiction. It kind of made sense when we were talking about better tools for the worker to use, but automation isn’t a tool the worker uses, it’s something that runs independently.

36

ajay 02.29.08 at 1:14 pm

Unfortunately, brett, that “politically loaded fiction” is what labour productivity means – production per worker. Don’t let your anti-union beliefs get in the way.

cjcjc, Switzerland is only relatively small government – its tax take is 30% of GDP, just under Ireland and significantly higher than the US. Neither have $18 minimum wages. Also, you’re forgetting to adjust for PPP. $18 in Geneva may not buy as much as it would in Kentucky. But maybe PPP is only covered in Econ 201.

You offer no evidence – none – that tripling minimum wage (presumably federal, not state – $5.85, not $7.40) would raise the price of everything by 50%, and I am inclined to doubt it, very strongly.

37

Great Zamfir 02.29.08 at 2:00 pm

Brett, the relevant question is not how much of the production can be attibuted to the worker, how much to the machine.

The question is, will the automation increase the benefit of hiring a worker. If in your example the machine requires someone to watch it, you have to hire someone, and minimum wage means you will hire someone at minimum wage, because paying minimum wage is cheaper than not running the machine. The rest of the profit of running the machine will go to capital suppliers, so what’s left after paying the supervisor should be enough to pay for your capital. If minimum wage is too high, the machine will not be bought.

38

Josh G. 02.29.08 at 5:00 pm

brett bellmore: “The idea that a guy packing boxes in front of a half million dollars of capital equipment is “producing” the entire output of that line is a politically loaded fiction.

Property rights are a politically loaded fiction. This is the part you libertarians simply don’t understand; these things do not exist as Platonic abstractions in a state of nature.

If we as a society allow all the benefits of productivity gains to accrue to rich capitalists, we create a situation where the majority of workers have no stake in supporting such gains, and may indeed have good reason to oppose them. That’s what the Luddite movement was all about. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see a repeat of that. I’d rather that everyone had a stake in continued growth.

By decoupling productivity from the well-being of the average worker, we are setting ourselves up for the same kind of economic collapse that the USSR suffered. And for the same reason: exaltation of an abstract ideology over the empirical facts on the ground.

39

Uncle Kvetch 02.29.08 at 5:13 pm

Brett is never surprised when non-white people have to be confined for their own good and would only be alarmed if it were to appear that large numbers of white people are being incarcerated unfairly. Hope this helps.

According to the study, one in 245 white Americans is incarcerated. This contrasts compares with rates of one in 1176 in France, one in 1075 in Germany, and one in 676 in England and Wales.

So what choice to we have to conclude that either white Americans like Brett and myself share the cultural deficiencies of our black counterparts, although to a lesser extent, or that we suffer from our own distinct set of deficiencies. What do you think, Brett? Just what is it about people like us that makes us so much more prone to poor decision-making than our European cousins?

40

Uncle Kvetch 02.29.08 at 5:15 pm

“Contrasts compares” s/b either one or the other, obviously.

And the incarceration rates in European countries in my above post are for those countries’ populations as a whole.

41

SomeGuy 02.29.08 at 5:17 pm

stoneyforest,

Didn’t you look at the link?

Entry level without a GED is probably 8-9 dollars an hour. But if you keep showing up 12.50 an hour is probably a big underestimate. It is probably more like $15 dollars an hour or after adjusting for PPP about $18 an hour.

You can get a job pushing carts at your local super market become a union member and probably end up making $15 an hour in 3 years.

If you don’t go to jail and you aren’t a single parent getting of poverty in the US is very feasible.

And even $9 isn’t poverty.

Anyway I think poverty is probably a bigger determinant of jail time than race and I don’t think I am going to get an answer to my question

What is a better predictor of incarceration Race or Family Status – Number of Parents?

Conservatives really don’t care all that much and liberals are probably terrified of the answer.

42

Dan Simon 02.29.08 at 5:21 pm

So what choice to we have to conclude that either white Americans like Brett and myself share the cultural deficiencies of our black counterparts, although to a lesser extent, or that we suffer from our own distinct set of deficiencies.

None, I’d say. Isn’t the notion that Americans as a whole are culturally predisposed to violence, compared with the inhabitants of other developed countries, pretty much a universally accepted opinion? The statistics certainly seem to bear it out…

43

RICKM 02.29.08 at 5:22 pm

someguy,

Not if you’re black and have a criminal record.

44

Kathleen 02.29.08 at 6:36 pm

someguy, you clearly have zero experience with the current unskilled job market or, really, life. Are you a teenager? The estimates you give for what low-wage earners could “probably” earn in a year or two are crazy — and if you think $9/hr “isn’t poverty”, I’d like to see you live on it. $7.50 is entry level in many places, with a 25 cent raise after a year.

45

Brett Bellmore 02.29.08 at 6:57 pm

“According to the study, one in 245 white Americans is incarcerated. This contrasts compares with rates of one in 1176 in France, one in 1075 in Germany, and one in 676 in England and Wales.

So what choice to we have to conclude that either white Americans like Brett and myself share the cultural deficiencies of our black counterparts, although to a lesser extent,”

I think it’s stupid group-think to believe that such statistics mean that “white Americans” uniformly possess one proclivity to commit crime, any more than “black Americans” uniformly posess another. We’ve got a substantial degree of cultural diversity in this country, and some of those cultures are really, seriously, nasty. Blacks have the misfortune to be members, in larger proportion, of some of the worst cultures in this country, whites to a lesser proportion. So we see some correlation between crime rates and color. But that’s just because color is a proxy for cultural membership.

“Americans as a whole” is a concept that’s going to lead you wrong every time. “Americans as a whole” share only one thing: American citizenship.

46

mpowell 02.29.08 at 6:58 pm


The idea that a guy packing boxes in front of a half million dollars of capital equipment is “producing” the entire output of that line is a politically loaded fiction

I wonder how Brett plans on discriminating b/w this guy and me (I’m an engineer). I’m extremely well compensated, but I am dependent on billions of dollars worth of equipment for my work to be valuable (I design integrated circuits). Without it, my work is comletely worthless. Maybe it requires moving beyond econ 101 to figure out the difference.

47

mpowell 02.29.08 at 7:02 pm


So we see some correlation between crime rates and color. But that’s just because color is a proxy for cultural membership.

This is somewhat true. It misses the fact that you are much more likely to be imprisoned for a crime in the US if you are black, regardless of whether you comitted one or not, but let’s run with it. The question is, why do these cultures exist and do we have any collective responsiblity to do anything about it? It takes a pretty perverse mindset to look at American history, look at the well-documented connections between economic status of parents and children, and decide that, no, the society at large should not concern themselves with the plight of members of nasty cultures.

48

Bruce Baugh 02.29.08 at 7:05 pm

We see that it’s not just non-white people who need locking up thanks to their unfortunate genes, but the wrong kinds of “white” folks too, for Brett. Likely it’s the result of miscegenation, plus of course the innate disadvantages of relative swarthiness.

49

Roy Belmont 02.29.08 at 7:35 pm

Bellmore:

“Blacks have the misfortune to be members, in larger proportion, of some of the worst cultures in this country”

Misfortune generally being a synonym for bad luck, as opposed to the transitive immediacy of victimhood, like say getting jacked at the ATM by some dusky-hued thug.
“These hapless misfortunates”, as opposed to “these innocent victims of heinous criminal activity”.
While both share the qualities of damage, one set’s just an example of rotten fate, nothing to be done about that, while the other’s redress is right to hand – “discipline and punish”. Victimhood often sanctifies, while vague misfortune has an almost disease-like quality. Compassion for the victims of crime, disdain and intolerant vigilant regard for the misfortunate “members, in larger proportion, of some of the worst cultures…”
Firm clear distinction there, and on you go. Wherever it is you’re going.

50

novakant 02.29.08 at 7:45 pm

guys, go watch The Wire, it’s all there

51

SomeGuy 02.29.08 at 8:05 pm

Kathleen,

Did you look at the link? Would you like me to walk thru a listing of the jobs from that link I considered unskilled.

Slaughterers and Meat Packers median hourly wage 10.43.

Crossing Guards 10.13.

9 hour at 40 hours a week is 360*52 = 18720 which is almost twice the census bureau’s poverty line of 10,160 for a single person.

I did. It was a few years back and my wife made a little less.

But the area is pretty expensive. Which admittedly might impact my estimates of hourly wages.

The real key is I had a partner and no kids. Did I do that right? And it wasn’t so bad. We had a PC and Cable and plenty of money for wine and dinner out. More money for dinner out than we have now.

52

SomeGuy 02.29.08 at 8:06 pm

Nope, I didn’t do it right, only the I had a partner and no kids was supposed to be bold.

53

abb1 02.29.08 at 8:08 pm

I still think it’s the case of the wage scale being too wide. $5-8/hr for – many! – low-wage workers, $15-25 for most people, $60-80 on the high end, $200-300 for doctors/lawyers and such and then astronomic numbers for the super-rich. It’s unfair, people feel it. The feel robbed, they want their fair share. It’s natural, it’s a backlash.

It must be much, much flatter.

54

Guessedworker 02.29.08 at 8:15 pm

The differential in the rate of white incarceration in America and Europe will be in part due to the racial classification of non-European groups as white. Hispanics. Middle-Easterners, North Africans and mixed-race are often classified as such – the depressing reason being, I suppose, that the authorities shy away from the dreaded notion of European-Caucasian purity.

This is racism, of course – as is the wierd desire to lay the blame for blacks rates of violence and criminality in general at the door of “white oppression”.

There’s an old but true blog-post on the classification problem here.

55

freshlysqueezedcynic 02.29.08 at 8:48 pm

Oh, we’ve got a doozy here. Hey Brett, your status as “CT Commenter With The Most Dodgy Racial Politics” has been revoked.

56

Brett Bellmore 02.29.08 at 10:11 pm

I should hope so, my “dodgy racial politics” is mostly a matter of people who don’t like my politics hammering it’s square peg into the round, “racist politics” hole. No matter how carefully I write, people end up reading what they want to, in far too many cases.

57

lemuel pitkin 02.29.08 at 10:17 pm

Guessedworker’s site is queasily fascinating, in the same way a collection of photos of severe skin conditions might be….

58

Guessedworker 02.29.08 at 10:41 pm

Oh, sad. I thought CTers were intellectually able. But what we have here is the usual left-of-centre incapacity to process facts – in this case the misclassification of non-European felons as “whites” – which counter their holy writ.

Look, if you base your discussion upon falsehood and said falsehood is pointed out, accept the fact in good grace. Don’t shoot, or in this case smear, the messenger. It’s wrong to dehumanise. Or is that lesson only for preaching at those you dislike?

59

Scott Hughes 03.01.08 at 12:31 am

It also strikes me as sadly funny how people in the U.S. say it is the “freest” country in the world when it has the one of the largest inmate populations per capita. It’s a coincidence that you post this now because very shortly beforehand I had posted a short article in which I say that society does not even need prisons: Does Society Need Prisons?

60

PersonFromPorlock 03.01.08 at 2:42 am

Isn’t the notion that Americans as a whole are culturally predisposed to violence, compared with the inhabitants of other developed countries, pretty much a universally accepted opinion? The statistics certainly seem to bear it out…

It may be “universally accepted” but that doesn’t make it true. Possibly two million Americans died violently in the 20th Century, while upwards of a hundred million Europeans did.

61

sara 03.01.08 at 2:49 am

It seems otiose, but rather necessary, to point out that many black Americans do not belong to the “nasty cultures” or “worst cultures” and do not commit crimes. Many of these African-Americans are concerned about the “worst cultures” and are attempting to counteract them.

These are fine distinctions perhaps lost on brett and guessedworker.

62

Brett Bellmore 03.01.08 at 3:25 am

“These are fine distinctions perhaps lost on brett and guessedworker.”

You see, this is what I meant when I said that “No matter how carefully I write, people end up reading what they want to, in far too many cases.” Let’s go back up to that statement of mine:

““Blacks have the misfortune to be members, in larger proportion, of some of the worst cultures in this country””

Since this seems to have gone right over your head, by “in larger proportion”, I did NOT mean, “without exception”. Got that?

63

nick s 03.01.08 at 3:49 am

Middle-class white Americans will happily pay for black, brown and poor white Americans to be fed, clothed, given free healthcare and education, plus a roof over their head… as long as they’re in jail.

(Ideally in a jail situated near a small, economically-challenged town with a mostly-white population.)

I think that’s the necessary intellectual step: prison is welfare in chains for the section of the populace that gets hives at the idea of spending money on Those People. As seen in this thread, that section is comfortable with that arrangement.

64

Dan Simon 03.01.08 at 4:44 am

It may be “universally accepted” but that doesn’t make it true. Possibly two million Americans died violently in the 20th Century, while upwards of a hundred million Europeans did.

Fair enough–insert the word “individual” before violence.

65

Dan Simon 03.01.08 at 4:51 am

Middle-class white Americans will happily pay for black, brown and poor white Americans to be fed, clothed, given free healthcare and education, plus a roof over their head… as long as they’re in jail.

What makes you think they’re doing so happily? I’d bet that most of them would love to force inmates to pay off their own living expenses with hard labor, if only the country’s @($*#% bleeding hearts would allow it.

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praisegod barebones 03.01.08 at 5:45 am

Dan Simon

Do you reckon there’s a plausible case to be made that incarceration rates in Europe are too high?

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Dan Simon 03.01.08 at 6:22 am

Do you reckon there’s a plausible case to be made that incarceration rates in Europe are too high?

How on earth would I know? I know very little about either the crime rates or the incarceration rates in various European countries. Do you believe they are?

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abb1 03.01.08 at 11:39 am

It also strikes me as sadly funny how people in the U.S. say it is the “freest” country in the world when it has the one of the largest inmate populations per capita.

The largest, actually.

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.08 at 12:33 pm

While I think our incarceration rate is outrageously high, the statement that we have the largest rate is extremely problematic. There are a number of nations out there, (The dictator of one just retired.) which are, for all practical purposes, just really large prison camps. The have officially low incarceration rates because where just about everybody is a prisoner, you don’t need so many distinct jails.

Of course, being better than Cuba isn’t much of an accomplishment, if you’re still worse than almost everyone else.

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Barry 03.01.08 at 12:53 pm

The point is, Brett, that the USA beat out a large number of countries which are not just prison camps with flags.

Brett: “You see, this is what I meant when I said that “No matter how carefully I write, people end up reading what they want to, in far too many cases.” Let’s go back up to that statement of mine:”

You see, some of us at CT have what are called ‘memories’. In particular, we remember your previous posts, and have a very good idea of what you are.

You lost the benefit of the doubt a long, long time ago.

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abb1 03.01.08 at 1:02 pm

No, Brett, c’mon. Not being able to participate in anti-government political activity is a far cry from being incarcerated.

And if you really do want to expand the definition, first you’ll have to add all those people in the US who are lacking political rights as well: ex-cons, parolees, etc.

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.08 at 1:20 pm

“No, Brett, c’mon. Not being able to participate in anti-government political activity is a far cry from being incarcerated.”

Not being able to leave, OTOH, is not.

Well, Barry, you remember what you read into my previous posts, anyway. Just as you’ll remember this exchange as me claiming all blacks were members of a violent culture, when all I said was that disproportionate numbers of them were. I find the incapacity/unwillingness of some here to notice when reality diverges from their intellectual prejudices rather annoying.

And, yeah, I agree, our incarceration rate is outrageous. It’s pretty pathetic when you have to point to the existence of police states to prove that your country isn’t really the worst in the world.

Still, we aren’t. We’re ‘just’ the worst of the best. Yay.

And why is this? It’s largely because of the war on drugs. Remind me again about how Democrats are crusading to end that (One among several…) root cause of our high incarceration rate. One of the handful of public figures willing to advocate that just kicked the bucket. He wasn’t a Democrat.

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abb1 03.01.08 at 1:34 pm

Not being able to leave

Still, it’s a stretch. And “not being able” is an exaggeration.
http://www.canadiannetworkoncuba.ca/Documents/visitors.shtml

Inviting Cuban Friends to Canada

When inviting a Cuban friend to visit Canada, the problem typically is not with Cuba’s bureaucracy, but rather with the immigration departments of other countries. Canada’s Immigration Dept., for example, often seems to think that all Cubans want to “defect.” That’s perhaps the biggest hurdle. Cubans who are travelling on official business of their organization (i.e., a university professor attending a conference in Canada) tend to have much less difficulty.

On the Cuban end, they do have to complete no small amount of paperwork and obtain an exit visa.

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freshlysqueezedcynic 03.01.08 at 1:56 pm

I find the incapacity/unwillingness of some here to notice when reality diverges from their intellectual prejudices rather annoying.

I seem to remember reality diverging from your intellectual prejudices when it came to the Race/IQ threads…

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.08 at 2:20 pm

“On the Cuban end, they do have to complete no small amount of paperwork and obtain an exit visa.”

The getting of which, in the end, is a long, long way from guaranteed. Or else you wouldn’t have all those rafts, and people smugglers. Any nation where you have to use people smugglers to leave is, in my book, a prision.

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abb1 03.01.08 at 3:57 pm

If the Cuban government tomorrow starts giving, say, 500K to every American who arrives there on a raft, the US will become – without doing anything new – one of those nations too.

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praisegod barebones 03.01.08 at 4:03 pm

The point of my comment to Dan Simon was lost cos I can’t think and type at the same time. What I meant to ask was:

Do you reckon there’s a plausible case to be made that incarceration rates in Europe are too *low*?

(They’re a lot lower than the rates in the USA in the 1970′s for example)

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.08 at 4:30 pm

“If the Cuban government tomorrow starts giving, say, 500K to every American who arrives there on a raft, the US will become – without doing anything new – one of those nations too.”

Bunk. If the Cuban government tomorrow started giving 500k to every American who arrivied on a raft, they’d be arriving on a raft after leaving America legally.

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abb1 03.01.08 at 5:42 pm

I’m not sure about that, it’s against the law to travel to Cuba. Same concept.

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.08 at 5:53 pm

Yeah, traveling to Cuba is illegal in the US, but leaving the US isn’t. And you can be sure that if the Cuban government were stupid enough to offer cash grants to anybody who showed up on their short on a raft, we’d legalize rafting there, if only to cost Raul the money. ;)

All of which has little to do with our disturbingly high rate of incarceration, save only that, while we have a lot of problems here, I doubt we’re going to get good solutions from people who idolize dictators of ANY ideological persuasion.

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steven crane 03.01.08 at 6:11 pm

pushing carts for three years brings you up to a whopping $8/hour, someguy. i know because i was there.

your entire #42 comment exhibits cluelessness.

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Roy Belmont 03.01.08 at 8:28 pm

“Any nation where you have to use people smugglers to leave is, in my book, a prision.”

Contra distinct to having your anal cavity, or its metaphoric equivalent, checked by medium-function social autistics because you’re traveling cross-country within a nation where you’re a citizen by birthright. A nation that until recently was loudly claiming to be the freest on earth.
Which yadda-yadda is met yadda-yaddda by the swinish reposte that bad people that hate us for our freedoms have made this necessary.
I’m afraid your analysis is flawed by willful, rationalized misprision, Bellmore.
The logic is essentially that because bad people have used their bad freedoms – to get on our planes, to move freely in our country – to hurt us, we’ll have to give up some of our good freedoms to get rid of those bad freedoms, possibly mostly all our freedoms, such as they are, until that happy day when all those bad freedom-using types have been stymied, or culled.
The same logic: horrible things are being done in private = bad privacy, so in order to get rid of that bad privacy, we’ll have to relinquish good privacy.
So in order to get rid of bad people…well you can see where that goes. Hasta la vista.
Speaking of Cuba: The revolution didn’t just replace a bunch of capitalist pigs with fatigue-wearing machos de la raza. It replaced scum-sucking American gangsters and their deeply embedded vice architectures, gangsters who were running a wide-open criminal enterprise using Cuban politicians as beards. The Fidelistas were quite naturally and legitimately concerned with retaliative reactions from those quarters. Then as the years rolled on those concerns became institutionalized, because the pressure from American stooge-politicians and those aforementioned gangsters never let up. This was all saturated in plain old capitalist thugocracy, such as removed Arbenz in Guatemala etc. Pretending that a teenager you’ve been beating the shit out of for years has suddenly gone loco and needs to be drugged and/or locked up because they’re rebelling and disrespectful of your authority – that’s one of the symptoms of psycho-parenting in action.
Not that the US was ever a parent to Cuba. But we were sort of the supposed kind of beacon of liberty to the world there for at least a little while. And Fidel’s Cuba began exactly in a desperate fight for liberty, against the corrupt and filthy social order they replaced. Context, Brett, it’s always really about context, not character. Pretending otherwise is dishonest.

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Dan Simon 03.02.08 at 5:36 am

Do you reckon there’s a plausible case to be made that incarceration rates in Europe are too low?

Why on earth do you think this would change my answer?

This whole discussion has gotten utterly surreal–one would think that governments set incarceration rates the way they set tariff rates. Incarceration rates are a function of crime rates, reporting rates, sentencing rules, policing practices, prosecutorial policies, parole decisions, and various other factors. Might those not play at least some role in determining whether a given incarceration rate is too low, too high, or just right?

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SusanC 03.02.08 at 9:02 am

one would think that governments set incarceration rates the way they set tariff rates

The government decides how many prisons to build, which (for the UK) sets the limit on the incarceration rate. If the goverment builds more prisons, the police and courts will create more prisoners to fill them. (At least, at the margin. There is possibly some threshold beyond which prison capacity is no longer the limiting factor.)

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Ned Baker 03.02.08 at 9:05 am

I’m going to shamelessly comment without reading the previous 84 comments.

If anyone would actually read the Pew Center report, which is the source material for this recent statistic, they would see the whole story. While the United States is leading the world in prisoners per capita, the report also discusses a lot of successes that US states have had in solving this problem. It covers the maxing out of the prison population in Texas and what that state is doing to reduce its prisoner count (for practical reasons). The study mentions the priceless value of preschool as a means of reducing crime, improving quality of life, keeping citizens out of prison, and actually saving states money.

All of these achievements and valuable insights were right there in the Pew report. We can build a stronger society if we focus on being constructive instead of sensationalizing and dumbing down the news.

If I read another news article about this that just says “1/100!!!” I’m gonna go nuts!

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abb1 03.02.08 at 11:15 am

There’s certainly something to say for the law-enforcement practices and their efficiency. One could imagine that in Brazil, for example (more specifically Rio/St. Paulo metropolitan areas), incarceration rate would’ve been much higher had the police been more efficient. Nevertheless, for the most part it’s obviously socio-economic reasons.

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Ketzl Brame 03.02.08 at 1:04 pm

About the racial disparity in US incarceration rates: this report from Human Rights Watch contends that the War on Drugs is primarily responsible for the disparity and that it’s not due to blacks using drugs more than whites. “Although the proportion of all drug users who are black is generally in the range of 13 to 15 percent, blacks constitute 36 percent of arrests for drug possession. Blacks constitute 63 percent of all drug offenders admitted to state prisons. In at least fifteen states, black men were sent to prison on drug charges at rates ranging from twenty to fifty-seven times those of white men. ”

A rational approach to drug interdiction, if we must try to enforce that policy, would surely involve GPS-equipped bracelets, remote monitoring and blood tests rather than incarceration. I don’t know why we don’t take that approach for everyone except for hardened violent criminals. We’ve got the technology, it’s cheaper than prison and it would allow convicts to still hold jobs and take care of their children. From all I’ve seen and read about prisons, most of them are seething cauldrons for inculcating already pissed-off people in violence, gangs, extremist ideologies and organized crime, universities for turning out hardened criminals. It has only the slightest deterrent effect.

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Hattie 03.02.08 at 4:47 pm

Stopping the war on drugs would sure make a difference. It would be something like getting rid of Prohibition.
But issues of public safety and concern for crime victims remain.

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Anon 03.02.08 at 11:36 pm

I for one am immensely relieved that only 1% of us have been naughty! I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

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SusanC 03.03.08 at 12:34 pm

I seem to remember someone from the UK’s Serious and Organized Crime Agency saying that given their estimates of the volume of the drugs trade, they would double the size of the UK prison population if they could apprehend and convict everyone who was guilty of drug offenses. (I wish I had a citation for this…) The point being that this would be undesirable even if it was possible.

Sure, soci-economic factors undoubtly have an effect. But also availaility of prison places, court time to deal with cases, police officers to investigate etc.

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Dan Simon 03.03.08 at 10:33 pm

The government decides how many prisons to build, which (for the UK) sets the limit on the incarceration rate.

I apologize for suggesting that the debate has become utterly surreal. In Britain, at least (and probably in other jurisdictions, as well), the surreal has apparently become all too real.

Now, do you really believe that that’s how the incarceration rate should be determined–that is, that the number of prisons built, and hence the number of prisoners occupying them, should be decided without regard to, say, the number of crimes being committed, or the number of criminals being convicted?

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