The U.S. is Number One — in Imprisonment Rates
The rates are given as the number of prison inmates per 100,000 people in the population at large. It’s pretty staggering that by far the highest rates of imprisonment occur in the U.S. The U.S. rate is 724 for every 100,000 people – up from 505 in 1992. Of major countries, the only close competitor is Russia with 581, and Cuba at 487. Iran and Israel, to give examples of countries with internal conflict, clock in at 206 and 209 respectively. Most major U.S. allies are in the 130 range or lower. I’m not sure what any of this proves. But this much we can say: the land of the free is also the land of the unfree. Millions of them. Texas, by the way, has an imprisonment rate of well over 1,000. There’s no country on the planet – no dictatorship on earth – as comfortable with locking people up as the state of Texas. The detention policies of the current administration may be more understandable in this context.
Do rates of imprisonment mean anything in measuring how free a society is? By the measure of political freedom and civil liberties put out by Freedom House, the USA is “free” but many of the other high-incarceration-rate nations (Iran, N. Korea, Cuba, Russia) rate as “not free.” The methodology of the Freedom House report takes into account equality before law and due process, but does not, as far as I know, take overall incarceration rates or disparate impact of the criminal justice system into account. I am with Sullivan in not knowing entirely what conclusions to draw from this statistical “achievement” of the United States. It is certainly clear that our culture tolerates having a much larger portion of our population imprisoned than any other democracy.