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U.S. Prison Population Highest in the World

April 24, 2008 05:48 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States houses almost a quarter of the planet’s prisoners.

30-Second Summary

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There are 2.3 million criminals in U.S. jails, more than in any other nation, according to the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

The number is “a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes—from writing bad checks to using drugs—that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries,” reports The New York Times.

A different study recently published by the Pew Center on the States showed that there are a disproportionately high number of minorities behind bars.

One in 36 Latino adults, 1 in 15 black adults and 1 in 9 black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are behind bars, according to Department of Justice figures.

But do these high numbers mean the United States has a problem on its hands?

Public policy professor James Q. Wilson argues that incarcerating criminals works. “The typical criminal commits from 12 to 16 crimes a year (not counting drug offenses). Locking him up spares society those crimes,” Wilson writes in the Los Angeles Times.

But Dan Brown writes on The Huffington Post that the prison statistics are “a national disgrace.”

“In the long-term, more and more people will go to jail (as many as 1 in 3 African American males at some point in their lives), destroying an untold number of families,” he writes.

Headline Links: ‘Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’

Opinions & Analysis: The good and bad of a high inmate population

Background: 1 in 100 Americans in prison

Reference: The International Centre for Prison Studies

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