Prison population in the United States is the highest in the world. Among NATO nations, there is a stark contrast in incarceration rates between the America and other countries.
At approximately 323 million population as of July 3, 2016, the United States is about 4.4 percent of total word’s population. But, the United States is home to about 22 percent of total world’s prisoners. Over 2 million are incarcerated and approximately 7 million are under penal supervision, U.S. Department of Justice report found.
An article in The Atlantic, The Prison-Industrial Complex, noted that: “No other society in human history has ever imprisoned so many of its own citizens for the purpose of crime control.”
At the 106th national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 2015, Obama noted that with $80 billion, America could “eliminate tuition at every one of our public colleges and universities.”
Former United States Democratic senator, Jim Webb, while trying to ponder the reason for the high rates of incarcerations in America, made the following remarks:
The incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, is five times higher than the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something dramatically wrong in how we approach criminal justice. Obviously, the answer is the latter.1
Why are so many incarcerated in America?
Many people believe that the war on drugs escalated incarceration levels in the United States. A Rolling Stone magazine article reports: “Federal mass-incarceration policies took root in the Reagan era, with the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which imposed mandatory minimums for drug sentences, …”. Reports also indicate that the crime bill former President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994 fueled the rise of racist mass incarceration.
But has there been any benefit from mass incarcerations? Probably not. According to an ABC News report, “It seems like the more we expand the prison system, the fewer benefits we get in terms of crime reduction.” A Washington Post experts reports also indicate that increased incarceration rates did not lead to a corresponding drop in crime rates, as the crime rates only dropped by between 10 – 25 percent.
Conventional wisdom says that incarceration rates should decrease with a drop in crime rate. This is not the case in the U.S. as it is elsewhere. In the same Washington Post article, it was reported that: “In Canada, for example, violent crime declined in the 1990s almost as much as it did in the United States. Yet, Canada’s prison population dropped during this time, and its per capita incarceration rate is about one-seventh that of the United States.”
The current wave of mass incarceration runs counter to traditional American core values – equality, opportunity and justice – that define American justice system from the time of the nation’s founding.