WHY are so many Americans in prison/jail/on parole?

I started this here to avoid arguments that amount to flinging cites and stats at each other, to open it up to opinion.

One easy answer is drug laws, and that non-violent drug offenders make up for a large portion of America’s jail and prison pop. But I’m not sure here, I have seen no evidence America has more or less drug users than elsewhere.

Something else that I can’t understand is how the incarcerated population doesn’t seem to translate to street crime, America certainly doesn’t seem like a place where petty crime is non-existant.

One point raised in a NYTimes article I found very persuasive is that Americans have a fetish for process, and so long as this process is followed then the result must be just even if it isn’t(to some subjective standard).

I think this is an excellent topic to explore, here in The Land of the Free.
My prime suspect is the emergence of private, for-profit prisons. Now there is a profit motive for incarceration, not just a justice motive.

There was already a profit motive in fact; here in California the prison guard’s unions are extremely powerful, and are always pushing for more and harsher laws to swell the prison population.

You don’t get elected being soft on crime. You get elected being tough on crime. (And if you can run an ad claiming that your opponent is soft on crime, you do it.) Being “tough on crime” translates to sending people to jail and keeping them there. (the death penalty is statistically insignificant relative to prison sentences).

For the past few decades, (especially in the 1980s) the response to everything we don’t like has been to increase the prison sentence. For some crimes, however, it simply doesn’t act as a deterrence or serve any other function than Retribution

People who aren’t about to go to prison can glibly say things like “he only got a five year sentence,” forgetting for a minute everything they hope to experience in the next five years of their lives.

The mandatory sentencing laws, most of which are drug-offense related.

It’s not that we have more drug users, it’s that we put huge numbers of non-violent minor offenders in prison due to mandatory sentencing.

In response to the 1st episode of HBO’s Newsroom, I Googled to discover U.S.A. is indeed #1 in the world for incarceration rate.
(After some small territories, ex-USSR states, Rwanda and a few Central American countries, Iran and Thailand (:mad:) score high, though at less than half the U.S. rate.)

Why? I don’t know, but suspect it is related to the Us-vs-Them bipolarization so visible and so sad in today’s U.S.

Last time my husband got in trouble this is almost word for word what our lawyer said. (No, it wasn’t drug related.) A good friend of ours just got out after almost two years for something non-drug related but due to the mandatory sentencing laws.

Definitely the “tough on crime” mentality, especially when drugs were involved. The system was so big long before for-profit prisons came into being.

Politicians had to show that they were tough on criminals or they might not get reelected. Thus you had draconian laws (e.g.,the Rockefeller drug laws), especially for drug offenses. People were given long sentences, often without parole, even for small offenses. D.A.'s especially built their reputations on how many people they put behind bars.

Other countries are far less harsh with minor offenders, and often don’t send them to jail.

Another issue is that of poor representation, especially if you don’t have money. A kid of a rich parent can manage to get probation for a minor non-violent crime; but if you can’t afford your own lawyer, that’s not likely (public defenders are generally overworked and underpaid, so many clients get only a perfunctory defense).

It’s worth noting that the Rockefeller statutes were significantly reformed in 2009. Mandatory minimums for possession were eliminated, among other things.

One the flip side there are plenty of Americans willing to be stupid enough to BE criminals.

I’d kinda like to try pot one day. But guess what? I could get in deep legal shit for it. Spend a ton of money so my lawyer can pay for his big assed boat. Never get a security clearance or have one revoked. Not be able to work in my field anymore.

So, guess what? I’ve never tried it, don’t hang around with people when they are using it (or hang around with cronic users that are most likely always carrying the stuff with them). Because I know the war on drugs is serious shit and could fuck up my life.

Those poor people caught in the war on drugs? Most of them did it to themselves. Its not rocket science people.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think the war on drugs is mostly bad and stupid mkay? But good grief, if you know you are going to get shafted for using…uhhh don’t fucking use.

And that also goes for other types of criminals.

Now people that got framed for drug possesion or poor Bob that was found guilty of that burgalry when it was John that did it or Smitty that was actually a petty criminal but he was just doing it so he could feed his starving children.

Yeah, those people have my sympathy.

Most of the rest, not so much.

Whats that saying? Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time?

Don’t get me started…

Also the “truth in sentencing” laws have taken discretion away from parole boards and Wardens in when inmates get released from prison to probation.

It used to be that good behavior resulted in “good time” meaning sooner release. Incarcerations were often reduced by 1/3 if the inmate behaved well.

Now judges decree things like “10 years in prison, 20 years on probation after that”. Previously the sentence might have been 30 years, but they could end up doing 5-7 years inside if they behaved, with the rest of the term on probation.

We refuse to believe the obvious facts about harsher sentences not reducing recidivism. And to the extent that it’s acknowledged at all, people just figure it’s because it’s not harsh enough. I think part of it has to do with the fact that Americans are more religious than most (all?) other industrialized nations, and we like good old-fashioned biblical revenge. And yes, our political system is fucked up and “tough on crime” is an effective bullshit soundbite. No one can run on a “evidence-based approach to crime” platform, so there you have it.

I would like to see some statistics on recidivism in the US versus other countries. A lot of people get out of prison for minor offenses, find they can’t get a job with their record, and go right back into drug-dealing, theft or whatever got them locked up in the first place.

Prisons (along with the military) are two huge government programs that the Republicans refuse to cut. The Democrats don’t try because it would be political suicide, but in a much more leftist country there would be serious attempts at prison reform.

I live in California, and it’s maddening that we spend approximately $9b a year on corrections while we hack and slash everything else, including education, and refuse to enact any sort of meaningful property tax reform or otherwise increase taxes.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives along with the Senate have mandated $487 billion in defense spending cuts over the next decade. Cite. (PDF).

These System Of A Down lyrics from the song “Prison Song” are appropriate here:


[lyrics removed]

Without “rule of law” society would be chaos. Not enforcing the law reinforces disregard for the law. If the laws are bad change the laws.

Way to miss the point.

As for the OP we torture people into confessions and we hate when people actually stand up for themselves and demand justice.

Do the incarceration rates of each nation take into account the difference between prisons and jails? Do other nations outside the United States even make such distinctions? I have no idea and am just curious to know.

So far as prisons go, does anyone have a cite showing the percentage of non-violent drug offenders currently serving a sentence?

I don’t really know why the United States has a high rate of incarceration. I guess a lot of Americans are simply bad at risk assessment and assume they won’t get caught for whatever crime they’re committing.