The Economist has a powerful article about America’s prison problem: we’re putting more people in jail than ever and we’re not doing much for them while they’re there. As long as we’re letting people out of prison after we put them in, we may as well do what we can to make sure that they won’t do things that land them back there. The raw statistics by themselves are pretty staggering:
America’s incarceration rate was roughly constant from 1925 to 1973, with an average of 110 people behind bars for every 100,000 residents. By 2000, however, the rate of incarceration in state and federal prisons had more than quadrupled, to 478. America has overtaken Russia as the world’s most aggressive jailer. When local jails are included in the American tally, the United States locks up nearly 700 people per 100,000, compared with 102 for Canada, 132 for England and Wales, 85 for France and a paltry 48 in Japan. Roughly 2m Americans are currently behind bars, with some 4.5m on parole or on probation (the probationers are on suspended sentences). Another 3m Americans are ex-convicts who have served their sentences and are no longer under the control of the justice system.