Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lock 'Em Up & Throw Away the Key

The New York Times has a story today on a topic I've considered for a few years. It seems that the US incarceration rate is the highest in the world. So are we, as a nation, more evil than others? Or are we better at catching criminals? Or is there some other explanation?

Since we have more criminals & longer jail sentences, the conventional wisdom that says harsher sentences will deter crime is a fallacy. But be certain that the rhetoric is heard from politicians every election cycle, so much so that politicians would kill over who is more supportive of the death penalty, or seeing which politician can be the most innovative in which crime of the month should be punished with mandatory sentencing guidelines.

And don't forget the "get tough" ideas around prison conditions. Then we move with peril on the cliff of torture for not just military detainees but wishful glee that some crimes could be added to the "torture approved" list.

Sounds good every election day. Keeps politicians in office. Does it work?

Here's a nugget from the Times story:

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, 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. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.