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The United States is the Least Free Nation in the World

2007-12-30 03:09:00

us prison population

Quite a statement, I know. This is not an anti-Bush diatribe. I do not hate America, and I am not even remotely liberal. I am simply referring to this fact: the United States of America has the higest percentage of its citizens in prison of any nation in the world. The precise statistic is 737 per 100,000 US citizens behind bars, a rate that is higher than Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Libya or even Canada. No other nation in the world locks up its own citizens at the level the United States do.

From Daniel Lazare's outstanding recent article in The Nation:

With 2.2 million people behind bars and another 5 million on probation or parole, it has approximately 3.2 percent of the adult population under some form of criminal-justice supervision, which is to say one person in thirty-two. For African-Americans, the numbers are even more astonishing. By the mid-1990s, 7 percent of black males were behind bars, while the rate of imprisonment for black males between the ages of 25 and 29 now stands at one in eight.

That's pretty remarkable when you compare those numbers to the fact that, according to US Census Data, white voters have a 1 in 63 chance of casting a ballot that will never be counted. For black voters, the odds are 1 in 7. Most Americans live their lives under two huge myths: first, that nuclear holocaust is no longer a threat simply because the cold war is over, and second, that after the courageous efforts of Martin Luther King Jr, America has changed its racist ways. Martin Luther King Jr was shot in the head and not a damn thing has changed since.

The worst part, of course, is that violent crime has actually been dropping for years here in the US. Quoting Lazare once more:

In 2002 just 19 percent of the felony sentences handed down at the state level were for violent offenses, and of those only about 5 percent were for murder. Nonviolent drug offenses involving trafficking or possession (the modern equivalent of rum-running or getting caught with a bottle of bathtub gin) accounted for 31 percent of the total, while purely economic crimes such as burglary and fraud made up an additional 32 percent.

Actually, wait, the worst part is that nobody is doing anything to change this and it keeps getting worse. We have only just begun to see the real consqueneces of this. Sexual violence in prison is rising dramatically over the past decade. Prisoners are being used as sweatshop labor. Most of the "single parent households" in the US are due fathers and mothers being in jail.

Further Brainfood

murder rate increases with prohibition and war on drugs

First of all, if you haven't already clicked the link, please read Daniel Lazare's article.

I also strongly recommend The Atlantic's groundbreaking article "The Prison Industrial Complex"

Begin your own research with the Department of Justice's publicly available prison statistics.

Prison Moratorium Project -- this is a great site and a great organization.

If you're interesting in getting your Brainfood in the form of flashing light, check out the excellent documentary The War on Drugs: Prison Industrial Complex. It's disturbing as f***, but beautifully done.

Read another?