US Houses Nearly 25% of the Prisoners on the Planet

It’s an interesting observation that one of the things we’re most proud of in this country, our democratic form of government, may be part of the reason we have come to be so draconian in our sentencing practices. The trend since the 1970’s to get tough on crime may well be influenced more than it ought to be by the fact that our lawmakers are elected officials who tend to act in accordance with the demands of their constituents.

Our reputation as a country to emulate continues to suffer. This article in the New York Times provides more insight.

It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

“In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”

No more.

“Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror,” James Q. Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. “Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons.”

Prison sentences here have become “vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared,” Michael H. Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in “The Handbook of Crime and Punishment.”

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States “a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach.”

Why do you think we now lead the world in incarceration, and what do you think should be done about it?

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