Why Are So Many Americans In Prison?

Via Al Jazeera English:

The US has the highest prison population in the world – some of whom  have been subjected to lengthy sentences for relatively minor crimes.  And that population has surged over the past three decades.

Although there has been a slight reduction in the past year, more  than two million people are either incarcerated in prison or in jail  awaiting trial.

The US has the highest rate of imprisonment in  the world, with 743 people incarcerated for every 100,000 Americans. No  other nation even comes close to these figures.

One explanation for the boom in the prison population is the mandatory sentencing imposed for drug offences and the “tough on crime” attitude that has prevailed since the 1980s.

But it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes US prison policy. Some prisoners are locked up for life – literally – and many receive harsh sentences for non-violent crime.

These long sentences are leading to an ageing prison population – with eight per cent of prisoners now over the age of 55. This, in turn, is increasing the burden of providing healthcare and geriatric services.

Furthermore, nearly 40 per cent of the US prison population is African-American, despite the fact that blacks make up only 12 per cent of the national population.

A black male is seven times more likely to be imprisoned than a white male.

Mental health issues and drug addiction are also common and, in California alone, it is believed that around 50 per cent of inmates need mental health treatment.

So why does the US have the highest rate of documented incarceration in the world? And does its approach to crime and punishment work or would a focus on rehabilitation be more effective?…

33 Comments on "Why Are So Many Americans In Prison?"

  1. Mamagriff50 | Feb 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm |

    What happened to openess and transparency???? Pres. Obama isn’t living up to his words to the people of the U.S. I voted for him. Now I am becomming so disillusioned. There is not one candidate I would give my vote to.             Sad.

    • emperorreagan | Feb 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm |

      Vote for me.  I promise to be a lying scum bag who will leverage the presidency to work at some hedge fund after my term is up.

      Also I’m not old enough to become president, so a write-in victory would cause a major problem.

    • Hadrian999 | Feb 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm |

       politicians only dislike unchecked power when someone else has it, they’ll yell about it, promise to end it but when they get the keys they forget all about that and use it for all its worth

    • gwen jackson | Feb 14, 2012 at 1:33 am |

       you’re just now becoming disillusioned? lol. that’s so cute.

      • Mamagriff50 | Feb 14, 2012 at 10:56 am |

        No it’s not cute! It started about 30 yrs. ago….!! I’m just disgusted now to the point I relly don’t give a sh*t who’s president anymore. $$$ rules this country, profit profit profit, for the top 1%. No more human decency.

        • gwen jackson | Feb 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm |

          lol, that’s what’s so cute. “no more human decency.”
          it’s cute that you still think there ever was.
          all of history is nothing but a record of conquest, theft, and brutality.
          ‘the holocaust’ had no beginning and no end; there has always been a genocide happening to someone somewhere.
          lol, you remind me of people who say “The last time America was the good guy was in WW2!”.
          as if there is any such thing as non-revisionist history. there isn’t.
          that’s all.
          the pinnacle of success in the animal kingdom is psychopathology; deception is merely one more evolutionary advantage that humans exploit with great success.

  2. Liam_McGonagle | Feb 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm |

    Social safety valve:  “What problem?  I don’t see no problems.  You see a problem?”

    It’s one of those win-win-win propositions, if you think about the taxpayer money funnelled to the “security” industry, the legalization of our racist biases and the reassuring pat on the back the rest of us can give our selves for being “superior” enough not to get caught up in all that.

    Only gets problematic if you think of the incarcerated as fellow citizens or you consider the ways that type of callousness turns the rest of society into brutish oafs.

  3. Liam_McGonagle | Feb 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm |

    I have no doubt that Obama plans some cushy post-presidential career of media wankery a la Bill Clinton.  C’est de rigeur, ne c’est pas?

    Still, it seems like an awfully long way out for such a short way home, if you catch my meaning.  Couldn’t he have just gone directly to the private industry benchwarmer thing instead of going through the presidency?

    I’m not inclined to believe that he’s a sleeper agent for a worldwide conspiracy of industrialists, though I do admit the end results do seem pretty consistent with the alleged ends of such a conspiracy.

    My current guess is that it’s a combination of narcissistic insanity and stupidity on Obama’s part.  I believe he really, truly believes he’s a transformational populist superstar, despite the ample and glaring evidence to the contrary.  To him, his biggest weakness (i.e., a wishy-washy pragmatism) is his crowning glory and proof of his unique genius.

    Most Americans are insane.  It’s just that very few have the guts to do anything about it.

    • emperorreagan | Feb 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm |

      I agree.  I think there’s some element of narcissism/psychopathy to most people who pursue higher office.  

      I don’t think Obama really had ill intentions, I just doubt that he actually believes anything or really has a vision for the country (other than him sitting in the oval office and being hailed as a transformative figure).  

      I have been thinking something similar about judges lately – about how the people drawn to such positions are frequently poor selections due to sharing some degree of narcissism.  It’s a high prestige position and it seems that the people who hold the positions often see themselves as lacking bias and being immune to influence.  

      And it may be a general cultural issue in the United States, that our culture just breed narcissism.

      • gwen jackson | Feb 14, 2012 at 4:13 pm |

        your theory on judges is sweetly idealistic, but the answer is really much more mathematical.

        the judiciary is as corrupt as the congress. it basically amounts to insider trading and conflict of interest, which was once frowned upon, but not anymore.
        judges are allowed to make financial investment in private prison corporations and they then have a motive to impose unrealistically harsh sentences because their personal fortune depends on it (more “crime”=more prison contracts).
        no different than our warmongering politicians invested in Halliburton et. al.
        no different than doctors prescribing brain-poison to as many kids as possible because they are invested in the pharmaceutical companies.
        etc, etc, etc.
        there is no industry you can find that isn’t rife with this kind of blatant abuse of the many for the benefit of the few.

        the answer is, quite simply, the basic inherent evil of the human spirit.
        we didn’t evolve to be the top predator by being nice.
        the upside: we have nice long, comfortable lives compared to the rest of the animal kingdom.
        the downside: we have to live our nice long, comfortable lives WITH EACHOTHER.
        and life among other top predators isn’t exactly a picnic.

        • emperorreagan | Feb 15, 2012 at 10:23 am |

          I don’t think people are inherently evil.

          I just think that the current system of promotion within much of western capitalist societies is at odds with our natural social dominance as primates.  For instance, I think that a dude like Brian Moynihan only reaches the position of CEO in the current sort of “kiss-ass-to-the-top” sort of system we operate in. In a tribal society, a preening incompetent like him may find themselves exiled or dead.

          • gwen jackson | Feb 17, 2012 at 10:16 am |

            lol, in a tribal society everything would be fair because people are basically good?
            capitalism evolved from tribalism. capitalism CONQUERED tribalism.

            how do you think that happened?

            and no one makes it to the top just by kissing ass; your naivete makes me think you are either under 25 ro you have little to no experience in the business world, no offense.
            But people make it to the top by stomping on the throat of anyone who poses a potential threat to their own dominance, be it figurative or literally. Not one person EVER made it to the top of any profession by ‘kissing ass’ or being nice; because when you reach the level of any endeavor where there is competition for success, if you aren’t the one stomping on throats, sooner or later someone will stomp on yours. Believe it.

            Evolution is a process of competition for survival of the strongest.
            Nobody ever wins by being nice.
            People who think their survival is dependent on being nice are only surviving in the manner of sheep or cattle; kept alive only until someone else is in the mood to feed on them.

            When people talk about socialization and cooperation among human society, all I hear is “MOOOOooooooOOOOO, I’m going to taste delicious!”

          • emperorreagan | Feb 20, 2012 at 10:46 am |

            Oh, people certainly do kiss ass to the top.  The part where they curry favor with their superiors is the most important part of the equation.  That enables them to get away with diminishing and sabotaging their peers and claiming the work of their juniors as their own.  They may turn around and double cross the superiors at the first opportunity to usurp their position, but the most important element is still politicking in place of competence.

            The comment on tribalism was about social norms and social organization (where exile would actually matter), not about economic organization.  I could have picked a different era in history, or perhaps an illegal operation today.   

            I’m also not sure what you think capitalism conquered, as it’s not tied to any particular type of political or social organization.  Capitalism can exist in states operating under the rule of a liberal democracy, a fascist dictator, or anyplace in between.  Tribal society may not exist in the west anymore, but that’s due to the evolution of the state – not any economic system.                
            Social cooperation is a trait that is common among all primates – an evolutionary trait.  The bizarre insistence on aggression as the dominant aspect of evolutionary theory is about as useful as creationism.

    • TruthersSoSmart | Feb 13, 2012 at 7:22 pm |

      I agree, although it’s highly possible he’s being blackmailed.  Might explain the sudden gray hair.  That said, Obama is extremely cocky and confident.  You get the impression that he thinks nothing could possibly go wrong for him.  This is the same attitude Nixon had, but look how he aged.  Once you start going down the corrupt, evil path, you start to look the part.

    • MoralDrift | Feb 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm |

      “Most Americans are insane.  It’s just that very few have the guts to do anything about it.”
      Quote of the month, thanks Liam!

    • gwen jackson | Feb 14, 2012 at 1:30 am |

      you still think it matters two shits who’s president? seriously?

  4. Anarchy Pony | Feb 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm |

    I dunno, but I can assure you the profit motive has nothing to do with it. Nothing. Keep moving prole.

  5. I blame Reagan. Drug war escalation (to include gov’t distribution), closure of mental health facilities, producerist ideology, etc.
    Correlation isn’t causation, but . . . 

  6. marklar_primus | Feb 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm |

    It’s partially profit motive but mostly it is propaganda. Politicians are allowed to make themselves out as being tough on crime while their rich friends rape and pillage to their heart’s content with impunity in a multi-tiered system where you can receive all the “justice” you can buy. Just another aspect of the shadow class war the wealthy have been waging against the people for the last hundred years and more.

  7. Privatized prison industry is the second or third largest industry in the country that is the problem. We give harsh sentences on drugs and non violent crime in order to keep the prisons stocked. Then they can make money from the federal govt, get tax right offs and use prisoners as cheap labor to make even more money. Its even more profitable that owning a church.

  8. keeping a couple of million poor people out of the unemployed line also helps cover an economy that is rapidly deteriorating; imprisoning the unemployed instead of fixing the economy, the education system, or the social safety net effectively buries a lot of evidence that the country is broken and on it’s way to a final implosion.

    • Calypso_1 | Feb 14, 2012 at 11:08 am |

      That makes me wonder if parolees are even counted in normal labor statistics. I’m thinking no, since Dept of Labor reports applications for unemployment benefits and the majority of parolees don’t find jobs or jobs that provide benefits.

  9. Note the source. Not only will you not see this discussion on Fox News, but you won’t see it on CNN or even MSNBC, other than maybe a passing mention.

    • gwen jackson | Feb 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm |

       to quote (or maybe misquote) South Park:
      “this is Fox News! or CNN! er, uh MSNBC! whatever, FUCK YOU!!!”

      they’re essentially all the same; we preserve the illusion of choice by “choosing” our favorite flavor of propaganda. yawn.

  10. This current system were existing under is collapsing right before our eyes, I think now everything will be revealed to humanity so why continue to hide behind the lies. Its big business in America to lock up its own citizens thats why they are privatizing the prisons. I grew up around racism and I saw it all to clear within this system how blacks are givin more time for a non violent crime what selling narcotics that are placed in the low income communities by gov’t agencies and their is evidence that cops will even plant drugs on a individual to make that arrest solid. But I dont want to focus the blame on a failed system and its gov’t but also the individual becuase some aspects of society are like mouse traps so if your stupid enough to believe everything they feed the sheep then you really believe that this system is beneficial to humanity. “stop tryin to change the people to fit the system and change the system to fit the peoples needs”~ author unknown.  But times up I dont think humanity has much time left because of a race of few who wanted to rule the world.

    • gwen jackson | Feb 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm |

       i don’t know about that…
      “the “current system” is always collapsing, has always been collapsing…
      nothing is “current” except change, which is the perpetual decay of the “current system” as it makes way for the “new system” which becomes the “current system” and then the past system as another “new system” evolves. et cetera….so it goes.

      but it’s never really new, the process itself never really changes. of all the revolutions, which one hasn’t ultimately resulted in a system that was as brutal, or worse, than what it aspired to “replace”? none. 

      it’s not a new thing; there is no new thing; there has never really been a new thing…

      all of history is a story of a few trying to dominate the many, to exploit their advantages to their greatest benefit. we make ourselves sad by insisting on placing value judgements on actions which don’t benefit us personally, when really it’s just life doing what life always does, always has done. and if our species does end, that’s life too. we won’t be the first it’s ever happened to.

  11. So many Americans are in prison for the same reason that so many people are programmed  by our public education system to become idiots who cannot structure their own time: it’s profitable for those wonderful banks and corporations and for their bought and owned politicians.  And as I look at the results of the AZ and MI Primaries, my inference is that the stupidity, ignorance, and manipulability of the American people are boundless.  Fascism is alive and well, and working with extraordinary efficiency in the Land of the Lie and the Home of the Slave. 

  12. Njonativebrother | Mar 25, 2012 at 11:23 am |

    Talk about a rise in prisoners. ( Marinette county) in wisconsin is sending guys to prison
    for failure to support. when some are unable to pay their child support due to a
    job loss of their own. And then using their past drug related offenses as a way
    to convict them. Some only owing as little as $3,000 dollars. While their child
    support is adding up with interest added; they will not only be further behind
    in payments but with the big f ( felony) on their record who will hire them
    then!?? What’s wrong with this country; Marinette county, wi. in particular.
    when your punished to prison for not being able to find employment in this
    economy and then use your ” past ” as a way to convict you !?? Talk about a
    rise in prisoners!

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