Archive for February 18th, 2011
Among neoconservatives, there is a movement to characterize the United States as “exceptional.” We are different. We are special. With an emphasis on its divine origin (Christian gods only need apply). In a series or irregular posts, WC will examine the credibility of this claim. We’ll start with crime.
According to the Bureau of Prison Statistics, as of December 31, 2009, there were 1,613,740 prisoners in the United States. That doesn’t include probation. That doesn’t include parole. It doesn’t even include home confinement. Prisoners. People pulling time. If you add all of them up it’s more than 7 million.
And while the United States has only about five percent of the world’s population, it has 25% – that would be one quarter – of the world’s prisoners.
It’s the highest rate in the world.
True, China and Russia outrank the U.S. in political prisoners. The International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London reports we have 751 people in prison per 100,000 in population. The world average is 125 per 100,000 in population.
WC blames democracy. Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected. The voters, bless their hearts, are in favor of being “tough on crime.” So judges issue long sentences to get themselves re-elected. In the rest of the world, criminal justice professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands for tough sentencing.
Does that give us a lower crime rate? Not overall. Some property crimes are lower than most other countries, but for drug offenses and, in particular, violent crimes, the U.S. still tops the charts.
In 2006, the last year for which WC can find statistics, the U.S. spent $216 billion on the criminal justice system. Once again, leading the world.
WC supposes that makes us “exceptional,” although perhaps not in the way that neoconservatives who trumpet the word mean.