Too Many Americans are in Prison: Prison Democracy
I wish every time the media does a story like Casey Anthony or OJ Simpson, about someone who they think is obviously guilty getting away with murder, they would do another story about America's place as the nation with the world's highest incarceration rate, even higher than allegedly rogue totalitarian nations like China, Iran, or North Korea.
Why are so many Americans in prison? The statistics are overwhelming. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. At year-end 2009 it was 743 incarcerated per 100,000 population. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) 7,225,800 people at year end 2009 were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole — about 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population. 9.2% of African-Americans are prison, and 70% of the American prison population is non-white.
While the United States only has 5% of the entire world's population, we have 25% of the world's prison population. Our incarceration rate is so high, that second place Russia has an incarceration rate 40% lower. In modern history, only Stalin's pre-World War Two Soviet Union- the one that had the ideologically driven purges and dreaded NKVD- had a higher incarceration rate than our nation does now. The median for all other nations is an incarceration rate 1/6th of the United States.
Some might say these rates are necessary to keep Americans safe from violent crime, but is that the case? For a great discussion of this point and the absurdly high incarceration rate, see "U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations" by Adam Liptak of the New York Times.
I can't but help the fact part of the reason we have such a high incarceration rate is the importance the criminal justice system has in creating jobs. For a detailed exposition of this point and comparison between Military Keynesianism and Penal Keynesianism see "Can Penal Keynesianism Replace Military Keynesianism?" by L. Randall Wray.