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US Has 25 Percent of World's Prisoners — Is It Safer?

US Has 25 Percent of World's Prisoners — Is It Safer?

With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the US has 25 percent of the world's prisoners. The US incarceration rate, which remained stable for much of US history, increased by seven fold with the late 1970s movement to get tough on crime.

Today's New York Times highlights explanations offered by criminologists:

[H]igher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

As a result of this combination, 2.3 million criminals are behind American bars. That means about one in 100 Americans are locked up. China, which has four times as many people, has 1.6 million criminal prisoners. San Marino, which has a population of 30,000, has one prisoner.

With tougher sentences, a drop in crime has followed. But causation is not clear. Ups and down in Canada's crime rate has mirrored the US's; however, there has not been a surge in Canada's imprisonment rate.

What is your reaction to this American anomaly, and the decision to not follow the rest of the West? Is tough sentencing the best way to make America safer?


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