The Economist on Criminal Justice in the U.S.

Given the Conservative government’s program of “getting tough on crime,” the Economist’s piece from Thursday, “Rough Justice in America: Too many laws, too many prisoners“, might be of special interest up here in Canada. It’s not a new story: we’ve known about the high incarceration rate in the United States for many years now. But in my view it’s a story worth repeating.

Herewith a few of the more telling portions:

. . . Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under “correctional” supervision. . . .

. . . In 1970 the proportion of Americans behind bars was below one in 400, compared with today’s one in 100. . . .

. . . Some 3,700 people who committed neither violent nor serious crimes are serving life sentences under California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law. . . .

. . . There are over 4,000 federal crimes, and many times that number of regulations that carry criminal penalties. When analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offences on the books, they were forced to give up, exhausted. . . .

. . . Jail is expensive. Spending per prisoner ranges from $18,000 a year in Mississippi to about $50,000 in California, where the cost per pupil is but a seventh of that. . . .

For those who would like to pursue issues surrounding imprisonment, the International Centre for Prison Studies, at King’s College London, provides some data and some links to follow up. In particular, their annual World Prison Population List [PDF] is valuable. It shows, for example, that at any time Canada has 38,348 people imprisoned, a rate of 116 per 100,000 population.

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