prison USA

HSLotsof at HSLotsof at
Mon Aug 2 20:31:54 EDT 2004


There has been vigorous recent discussion on this subject:

Jack R. Lebowitz' quotation of  the Gandhi aphorism: "First they ignore
you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win" is
indeed apposite., as are Carl Olsen's listing of Iowa's increasing
penalties, when we compare them with their effectiveness.

Recent Bureau of Justice figures have shown that USA now has just over 2
million incarcerated, and 7million either incarcerated, on probation or

Surely those statistics provide grounds for various lines of debate with
which to engage the US public?

Example 1:

USA with 2 million prisoners is incarcerating almost 700 per 100,000 of

This compares with approximately 1/7 of that rate in the rest of the
developed world, and it cannot be shown that USA is safer than the rest
of the world as a result.

Example 2:

It can be shown that the increase in incarceration rates experienced in
USA is mainly due to illicit drug related offences, yet it cannot be
shown that USA is using illicit drugs at a lower rate than the rest of
the developed world.

Example 3:

Differences in statistical detail and method make it difficult to
compare jurisdictions, yet 23 States of USA did use common detail and
method for a brief period 1991-93.

and the associated chart

Incarceration rates and illicit drug use rates had a positive relation,
so, increased severity of punishment does not appear to decrease drug 

Example 4.

No state can afford every aspiration, however wealthy, so every choice
has an opportunity cost.

Compare the incarceration rates of all US States, the cost per
individual of the prison budget, and the cost per individual of the
education budget.

Compare the number of new prisons built with the number of new primary,
secondary and tertiary institutions built over the past x years.

Example 5.

I have been unable to find any report from any prison in the world of a
replicable method of excluding illicit drugs from its walls.

It does seem crazy to lock drug offenders away in institutions where
they do obtain and use drugs under even less safe conditions than are
average outside prisons, and then to free them to a society put to
increased risk of the blood-borne diseases contracted whilst

Example 6.

Compare State budget deficit/surplus with State incarceration rates.

Peter Watney                Internet : petrew at
30A Kellermann Close        Homepage :
Holt  ACT  2615  Australia  Telephone: +61-2-6254-1914

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