Incarceration Worldwide

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In 2002 the United States surpassed over 2 million inmates in both prison and jail- the first time in history this number has ever been hit. This number equates to over 726 prisoners per 100,000 people living in the country. This number is ridiculously high, as similar developed countries in western Europe report far lower numbers. Places like Germany and France only report 80 and 101 inmates per 100,000 citizens, respectively. Rates are even lower in Asian countries like China and India, where in India rates are 29 inmates per 100,000 citizens; and considering these two countries are the most populated countries in the world, home to over 1 billion people each (compared to America’s 300 Million), it’s easy to see there is a discrepancy.

Prison Population (per 100,000 people), photo by wikimedia user sbw01f, used via creative commons

Prison Population (per 100,000 people), photo by wikimedia user sbw01f, used via creative commons

Reports show that the crime rate is not significantly higher in America, and victimized crimes are reported just as frequently in all other developed countries already mentioned. So what is happening here? How can it be that America has such a high inmate rate compared to the rest of the world?

Studies show that the reason for the increase in inmate population over the past forty years is due to the increased sentencing for less offensive crimes. For example, rates for minor drug offenses like marijuana possession have gone up. In fact, increased drug sentencing has accounted for almost 88% of the booming increase. Even more interesting is the amount of time given to an offender for such crimes as burglary, where in America their prison term may be over 16 months- someone in Canada or England may serve only between 5 to 7 months. Moreover, the long sentences we see in american (over 10 years of more) account for 41% of the prison population. In England, this only accounts for 12%. In Germany, almost all sentences are given 1 year or less, with the exception of homicides.

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So what can America do?

Should the USA take inmate advice from Cuba? Photo used from wikimedia user Madden via creative commons

Should the USA take inmate advice from Cuba? Photo used from wikimedia user Madden via creative commons

There are different philosophies used in different areas of the world; ones which America hasn’t quite adopted yet. For example, in Cuba, prisoners are treated more humanely and are given the chance to rehabilitate by working jobs while in prison, making an actual income, being allowed to wear ‘normal’ clothing rather than prison uniforms, and above all else they’re allowed to serve their sentences near their hometown- close to family and support systems.

New Zealand has innovative new approaches to offender rehabilitation. (Photo used from wikimedia user zscout370 via creative commons)

New Zealand has innovative new approaches to offender rehabilitation. (Photo used from wikimedia user zscout370 via creative commons)

In New Zealand, A program known as Project Turnaround allows offenders the chance to rehabilitate actively with the victims of their crime. Making the crime and the rehabilitation more about the person gives offenders a different perspective to the crimes they’ve committed, and again, humanizes the process of incarceration.

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