We're #1! US incarceration rate world's highest... ten times higher than Europe's

Can you spot the outlier below?

Incarceration rate per 100,000 population:

Austria: 108

Belgium: 95

Canada: 108

Denmark: 66

Finland: 68

France: 91

Germany: 88

Greece: 99

Iceland: 36

Ireland: 76

Italy: 75

Netherlands: 117

Norway: 75

Portugal: 108

Slovenia: 66

Sweden: 79

Switzerland: 76

United States: 751

No, that’s not a typo. The US rate is not 75.1. It’s 751. The United States incarcerates its citizens at a rate nearly ten times higher than every other industrialized democracy!

Many Americans consider China a repressive government (and it is, if you’re a political activist), but China imprisons only 119 people per 100,000.

There are several reasons why the United States, with less than 5% of the world’s population, has nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners:

Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences…

Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according to Mr. Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.

Also, easily accessible guns in the United States means that violent crimes are more likely to cause death. But that’s a minor factor because U.S. prison statistics were quite similar to other nations till about 30 years ago:

From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s.

America has built a ridiculous number of prisons, yet many are packed far beyond capacity. As a result, “California may have to cut prison population by 40 percent”:

Federal judges tentatively ruled on Monday that California must reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by up to 40 percent to stop a constitutional violation of prisoners' rights.

Contrast that with Europe:

“Netherlands to close prisons for lack of criminals”:

The Dutch justice ministry has announced it will close eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty

Posted by James on Tuesday, May 26, 2009