Monday, July 26, 2010

Some Support from "The Economist" on US Criminal Justice

Readers who were interested in my recent "United States of Punishment" blog essay may be interested to know that the British newsmagazine The Economist has an article that supports my harsh criticisms of the US criminal justice system. The article is called, "Rough justice in America: Too many laws, too many prisoners," with the sub-heading, "Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little."

The article is from the July 22nd 2010 Economist, with link at

The article contains some very significant statistics that you may want to copy down and save for future reference, if you are at all interested in the state of our justice system. To quote one section which relays some of these stats,

"Justice is harsher in America than in any other rich country. Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under “correctional” supervision. As a proportion of its total population, America incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan. Overcrowding is the norm. Federal prisons house 60% more inmates than they were designed for. State lock-ups are only slightly less stuffed.

"The system has three big flaws, say criminologists. First, it puts too many people away for too long. Second, it criminalises acts that need not be criminalised. Third, it is unpredictable. Many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them.

"In 1970 the proportion of Americans behind bars was below one in 400, compared with today’s one in 100. Since then, the voters, alarmed at a surge in violent crime, have demanded fiercer sentences. Politicians have obliged. New laws have removed from judges much of their discretion to set a sentence that takes full account of the circumstances of the offence. Since no politician wants to be tarred as soft on crime, such laws, mandating minimum sentences, are seldom softened. On the contrary, they tend to get harder."

Once again, the article is from the July 22nd 2010 Economist, with link at

I am gratified to find some support for my own concerns in The Economist, as this is not some far-left or ultra-liberal publication. Often, the magazine has conservative views that I disagree with, but I always appreciate that the views are presented with intelligence and wit.

Our prison situation is indeed out of control: fiscally wasteful, humanly destructive, and socially counterproductive. Intelligent people on the left and the right are both starting to see this, but making any change is sure to be extremely difficult, because the criminal justice-prison system--the "war on drugs" and all the rest of it--has become a profitable industry with many vested interests, not unlike the military-industrial complex that that old lefty Eisenhower warned Americans about.

1 comment:

Seeing Eye Chick said...

You said it: Profitable Pursuit--- But then America is run by corporations. That much is obvious by so many current affairs stories--and those corporations run our government at our expense. We pretend to vote, they pretend to give a choice, meanwhile business as usual. So how long do you think it will be til the Corporate Prison Complex starts really cracking down on political dissent? More so than usual I mean?

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