Incarceration Rates in America Compared to other Civilized Nations

The United States of America Justice department reports that one in every thirty two Americans adult is incarcerated. The report indicates that close to eight million adults in America are either on parole, incarcerated, or on probation. This indicates that United States has the highest number of prisoners in the world with seven hundred and thirty per one hundred thousand people. It is followed by Russia which has six hundred and eleven per one hundred people. United States population accounts for less than a fifth of the world total population but more than twenty five percent of the world prison population is American. (Mauer, S 2007 82)

China is the world most populous nation accounting for more than twenty percent of the world total population. In terms of the population in prison, China ranks far much below with only 1.5 million people in Chinese prisons. This accounts for a very small percentage of the total population of this country. Russia rank close to United States with six hundred and twenty seven prisoners for every one hundred thousand people. The other countries in Western Europe have much lower rates with England having one hundred and fifty one and Germany eighty eight. The median for all the nations in the world is roughly one hundred and twenty almost six times the rate in the United States.

Criminologists have pointed some of the factors which have led to the extraordinary figures as far as incarceration is concerned in United States of America. The high rate of violent crimes, harsh sentencing laws, racial crisis and above all the special fervor in fighting illegal drugs in the country.

Others have pointed the American temperament and the fact that the judges yield to the populist demands for the sake of their posts. Whatever the reason to explain the high figures, it is evidently clear that the gap between the American justice system and the other parts of the world is huge and continue to grow. Gone were the times when the Europeans nations used to send delegates to study our correctional centres.The high figures shows that our justice system struck a sentence with the slightest provocation. (Mauer, S 2007 109)

Analysts point out that the Prison sentences in United States have become extremely harsher compared to any other country in the world. There has been a joke going round that the high rate of incarceration in one of the strongest democracies in the world has made it a rogue state. This indicates that America has decided to deviate from the Western world norms and applied some of the harshest practice in the justice system. (Cowling, M 2008 182)

The rise in the rate of incarceration has only been a recent phenomenon. In the early 1920s the rate was stable and remaining under this condition for more than half a century when the figures stood at one hundred and eleven prisoners per one hundred thousand people. When the campaign to get tough on crime was brought into the picture the rate began to rise to the levels which are being experienced today.

The crime rate had by then reached alarming rates partly due to the easier availability of guns as well as increase in the number of the people who were abusing drugs. This explains why the decision to get tough on crime and drugs was made. As a result of this policy the population in our prisons began to rise as those who were engaging in criminal activities were sentenced harshly to deter others from engaging in the criminal activities. The war on drugs had similar effects as the number of those incarcerated rose to figures which have never been witnessed before. Sixty percent of the prison population constitutes those who have been convicted due to drug related crimes or being caught in possession of the drugs. This clearly indicates that the war on drug has contributed heavily as far as increase in the rate of incarceration in United States of America is concerned.

The issue of rising crime rates and drug related cases is not an American problem only. It is a thorn in the flesh for most developed and developing country. The rate of violent criminal activities has been on the rise in major European cities. The assault rate in London and New York has not registered much difference yet the incarceration rates remain distance apart. This shows that American justice system is skewed towards slapping sentences even when the situation does not warrant. It has been pointed out that there are far too many people who are behind bars yet the other channels of justice have not been utilized. Our justice system has heavily relied on incarceration as a means through which offenders are punished. Other parts of the world have come up with other methods therefore explaining the gaping differences that exist as far as incarceration rates are concerned. (Cowling, M 2008 202)

People who commit those crimes which are categorized as non violent are less likely to get long sentences in other parts of the world. This is totally different in United States since this category of law breakers is usually slapped with long sentences. This makes our country the only one in the category of advanced nations to incarcerate people who have committed petty crimes such as issuance of bad checks.

The effort to fight the illegal drugs in our country has often taken ugly turns. Right from increasing the number of prisoners to targeting a given race these efforts continue to receive mixed reaction from different corners in the country. There are those who feel that this war heavily targets the minorities in the country. Figures show that almost fifty percent of those who have been convicted of cases related to illegal drug use are African Americans. The Hispanic and American of Asian descent are also affected by the war on drugs. This has led to the opposition of this war on the premise that it criminalizes specific communities in the country.

In 1980 there were only forty thousand drug related prisoners in American correctional centres.This number has risen to more than one million presently. Many Americans ask themselves why this number has risen to such an astronomical figure over a span of thirty years. The answers lie with the perception which is highly held by American prosecutors who believe that putting those who are involved in drugs in prison reduces the demand of the illicit drugs hence a step further in discouraging this practice. This school of thought has been blamed for the shame American has experienced as far as incarceration rates are concerned. (Kender, S 1996 67)

The length of sentence has a directly effect on the rate of incarceration. American justice system is known to slap heavy penalties on a number of cases. For example, burglars in United States usually get sixteen months behind the bars, this is far much higher when compared to our neighbors Canada where the same crime attract five months and in United Kingdom the term does not exceed seven months. This clearly shows that an offender will spend more time in prison in this country as compared to other nations across the world. (Gottschalk, M 2006 56)

There has been a raging controversy whether race has been a factor as far as incarceration in this country is concerned. Many specialists have dismissed this argument as unfounded. It is evidently true that the minority across all the nations constitute the largest number of the prisoners. In countries such as United Kingdom, Canada and Australia the minorities make the highest population in prisons.

Some scholars have brought out an interesting angle as far as incarceration rates are concerned. They claim that English speaking countries generally have higher prison rates. There is no single factor which has been cited as a contributive to this situation but several issues have been brought forward as probable causes. Capitalistic economies and political culture which leans away from social democracy tend to prefer incarceration as opposed to other means of punishment therefore contributing to the higher rates in countries which have adopted this culture. The American character of independence, judgemetal and self reliance has been noted to play a big role in contribution to the incarceration rates.

It is quite evident that the higher rates of incarceration in United States have not led to reduced crime. The crime rates continue to rise in the country despite the tough measures and policies which have been instituted by the government for a couple of years. The fact that this country has the highest incarceration has not made it a haven where criminal activities have been reduced. It is time Americans wake up to reality and adopt new measures which will lead to use of other methods of punishment


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