US Simultaneously has 30 year crime low and worlds highest prison population.

What is wrong here??? 1 in 37 Americans is in prison yet we are flaunting record crime lows (- drug counts mind you). I smell a fish.


It seems logical to me. Remove criminals from society, and crime drops. Where is the mystery?

Oh yes, its very logical.

What is not logical is that 1 in 37 Americans are in prison.

Are 1 in 37 people “born bad” ?

alterego:Oh yes, its very logical.
Then no fish after all?

alterego:Are 1 in 37 people “born bad” ?
Why do you think you have to be “bad” to be in prison, let alone “born bad”?

Alterego - you did not include drug convictions in your statistics on record crime lows.

But you included those convicted of drug counts in your statistics of how many people are in prison.

That looks like a major source of the disparity.

Of course, a rather obvious thing being missed so far is that the prison population is a function not of the crime rate, but of convictions multiplied by incarceration rate multipled by length of incarceration.

You can have a lower crime rate and more people in prison if you simply A) catch and convict a higher percentage of criminals and/or B) lengthen sentences. Theoretically, you could have an incredibly high crime rate with nobody in prison at all - just don’t catch any crooks. Or you could have a very low crime rate with overflowing prisons - put everyone who commits any crime at all away for a long time.

I appreciate the point you are trying to make, but your formula isn’t correct.

The length of incarceration can’t be in there. Let’s say you only ever convict one guy, and you sentence him to four billion years. That can’t make the prison population any greater than if you’d sentenced him to one year. The prison population would still be one, wouldn’t it?

Try this out instead:

We built all these hospitals ten years ago and now our disease rate has declined. What a waste of money. If we had known ahead of time people were going to be so healthy now, we could have spend the money on something besides increased medical services.

Well, yes, but if the one guy was incarcerated for just a day, the prison population would then drop to 0 on Day 2, right?

Or lr in other words, if the incarceration period was four billion years, you could imprison just one person and have the incarceration rate hold steady at 1. But if the sentences were all one day, you’d have to imprison 365 people a year to hold the rate at 1. So the length IS part of the function.

Look at it this way; set the number of convictions constant and change the length of incarceration. Assume an unlimited period of time and assume all incarcerations begin on Jan 1 and end Dec 31. If you incarcerate 100,000 people per year for 1-year terms, you will at any given time have 100,000 prisoners. If the terms are two years, you’ll have 200,000 people at any time - all the people convicted this year plus all the people convicted last year.

From alterego

I don’t see a big mystery here. Maybe I’m not understanding the OPs point (IS there a point??). Are you saying that with prison overflowing we should have higher crime? Or…well, I can’t think of an alternative. That we should have lower prison populations for…higher crime? Lower Crime? People shouldn’t go to prison? People shouldn’t commit a crime?? Am I just being dense or does this thread make no sense? Whats the debate???
From alterego

Why is that not logical? Why is it a problem? Are you saying that those people are in prison, but shouldn’t be? I’d agree in some cases (some of the drug laws in particular I just don’t see, but thats for another debate). However, if people commit a crime, even if its a bad law, they go to prison if caught. Ergo, if 1 in 37 Americans are in prison, then a majority of them committed SOME crime, based on the present laws of the land. No?


The “logic” difficulty had stems from an old lie that some naive souls like to tell themselves: They like to tell themselves that prisons and any sort of penal system are the “root cause” of crime, since they are the “oppressive means”.

I don’t have hardcore evidence handy, but in New York I think what happened was that they found that one guy=a whole lot of crimes, very often. They started going after the hardcore recidivists with better and smarter policing, and they also discovered that the “broken windows” theory of stopping big problems as they get started as little problems works a bit for people. Every fare jumper, speeder, etc. has his or her stats run when they’re apprehended, and sure enough that’s how they find a lot of fugitives, bail-jumpers, and outstanding warrant-types. Their general contempt for the law and their fellow citizens leads them to make little selfish choices as well as the criminal big ones, and that’s how you get them. I’ll always remember how they caught the Son of Sam–a parking ticket.

How come CNN don’t offer comparisons with other jurisdictions – seems bizarre to look at one country in isolation ?

So, for example, what’s the crime rate now compared with similar countries and wouldn’t you want it to be a whole lot lower than those other countries given the greater success the US authorities must be having, and the cost of keeping these people behind bars ?

What RickJay forgot mention (or didn’t notice) is that his formula assumes a steady state situation: that is, every day the number of prisoners entering the system with a certain sentence equals the number exiting having served that sentence. If you only ever convict one guy, then obviously this isn’t a steady state situation. But if every year you sentence someone to a billion years (and the prisoner actually serves out his sentence) then for situation to remain constant there must be someone ending a billion year sentence every year. That means that you have to have a billion people in jail. On the other hand, if every year you sentence someone to one year, then there will be only one person in jail (every year, it’s someone else).

>What is wrong here??? 1 in 37 Americans is in prison yet we are flaunting record crime lows (- drug counts mind you). I smell a fish.

Record lows for America. They would count as record highs for any other Western nation.

An analogy with **The Ryan’s ** point might be, say, the UK general (non-prison) population. Here, the population has started to increase fairly significantly in recent years while the birth rate has declined – equivalent to fewer people going into prison yet that prison population but the prison population increasing. How is that seeming paradox resolved ? Because people are living significantly longer, or receiving longer sentences/less parole time – what impact is lifer prisoners living ten years longer having, for example. So much to factor into the equation.

Stating (presumably selective) bald figures without context is meaningless; ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’ – just serves a pre-determined agenda.
The above ignores the impact of greater immigration in order to make the point more clearly.

First of all, the OP figure needs correcting. From the article:

"The Justice Department reported last week that at the end of 2001, more than 5.6 million adults – one in every 37 U.S. adults – were either in state or federal prison or had done prison time during their lives."

The one in 37 refers to present and past living inmates. There are currently about 2.1 million people in prison at this time - not 5.6 million. AFAIK, the current incarceration ratio is one in 143 U.S. residents.

The fishy smell might come from the fact that the increased rate of incarceration is mostly due to mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug offenders:

"The growth in the Federal system is largely due to the growth incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, who have gone from 30% of the Federal population in 1984 to 57% today, and growth in the incarceration of immigrants, from 18,929 in 1984 to 35,629 on June 7, 2001. Rather than expand use of community sentencing, the FBoP plans to build 29 new public prisons and contract for more than 20,000 new private prison beds.

Along with that growth, we have seen sharp increases in racial disparities, in the number of women and youth behind bars, and in the proportion of people behind bars for non-violent (especially drug) offenses. African-Americans now make up 47% of state and Federal prison populations, but just 12% of the general population. Latinos make up at least an additional 16% of the prison population (not all states count Latinos separately from whites)."
The fishy smell might also be the fact that prisons are a profitable industry. The prison industry employs more than 523,000 people and is the country’s biggest employer after General Motors.

"Who profits? The building trades are experiencing a huge windfall. Phone companies, providers of vending machines, and HMOs are all finding new markets in the burgeoning prison population. One phone company charges $22 for a collect 15-minute cross-country phone call, and provides a 35 percent kickback to the prison. They have a captive audience in prisoners who cannot carry cash in prison and must rely on collect calls. A single phone can gross $15,000 a year. Snack machines offer the staple food supply for visiting rooms in prisons. One provider has reported a doubling of sales each year.

To keep prisons - both public and private - financially self-supporting, prison officials are bringing private industry inside the walls, using captive (and therefore cheap) labor.

In Texas 150 workers were laid off from a computer-board assembly plant so the company could move inside prison walls. The company owner noted, “Normally when you work in the free world you have people call in sick, they have car problems, they have family problems. We don’t have that here.” And, he added, inmates “don’t go on vacation.” Prison industry sales in 1994 totaled $1.31 billion."

Here’s an article about prison profiteers fighting over prisoners:

If the criminals are in prison, it is harder for them to commit crimes. I see no problem.

Of course, as many have pointed out, your basic figures are either wrong or misleading.

Regarding the remarks about the U.S. lowered crime rates being record highs everywhere else; I’d recommend you take your biases elsewhere or do some reading. Based on the International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS), a generally well regarded multi-part survey, the truth is far more complex.

In terms of general victimization, the U.S. is pretty much in the middle of the pack. Where the U.S. has problems is in terms of incidence - i.e. whereas not that many people experience crime, those that do experience a lot of it. Still they are not at the top of the list in that either. In certain types of crime, they are near the bottom of the pool, such as car related crimes (theft, vandalism).

The ICVS itself has too much data for me to link succintly, but here is a decent summary I found by searching:

Regarding the OP, I’ll just agree with DrDeth immediately above me.


From ** annaplurabelle’s** first link: The US holds 25% of the world’s prison population, and almost half of those (in state and Federal prisons) are black ?

Holy Fuck!

And the crime rate remains in the broad range of comparable countries despite that imprisonment rate.


I knew the ‘war on drugs’ was seriously misguided but I really didn’t think it would be allowed to get that out of control.


How on earth does this happen in a democracy - where is the public outcry against this insanity ?