The United States is now the number one nation of the incarcerated in the world. The Pew Center on the States released a new report that one in 99 Americans is a prisoner in the nation’s overcrowded jail and prison system.

The Pew Report:

The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world, including the far more populous nation of China. At the start of the new year, the American penal system held more than
2.3 million adults. China was second, with 1.5 million people behind bars, and Russia was a distant third with 890,000 inmates, according to the latest available figures.

Beyond the sheer number of inmates, America also is the global leader in the rate at which it incarcerates its citizenry, outpacing nations like South Africa and Iran. In Germany, 93 people are in prison for every 100,000 adults and children. In the U.S, the rate is roughly eight times that, or 750 per 100,000.

We have argued here before that the USA is an unequal, Racist, Incarceration Nation where the system of justice unfairly punishes those with dark skin over those with lighter coloring and now the Pew Report backs us up with new prison data:

If you’re a young Black Man in America — watch your back! Those coming after you may not be men in white sheets, but rather justices in black robes.

When we live in fear and choose punishment over reform, it is the states that must pay the price in building bigger prisons and incarcerating more of the general population in order to keep the perceived peace in a land where toting handguns is more precious than life and, where we pray for a reason to shoot first, and ask questions later.

The major horrifying indicator in the trend toward imprisoning bodies
— instead of freeing minds — is demonstrated in the 127% states rise in spending for corrections compared to a 21% increase for higher education.

Pew argues money spent on prisons would be better invested in early childhood education to reform the young mind away from a life of criminality:

Corrections spending also competes with the funding many states want to devote to early childhood education, one of the most proven crime prevention strategies. Research shows that attending a high-quality pre-kindergarten influences a child’s success both in school and in life.One rigorous study that followed severely disadvantaged children into adulthood showed that participation in pre-kindergarten dramatically reduced participation in juvenile and adult crime, and increased high school graduation, employment and earnings, with a total benefit-cost ratio of 16 to 1.

Looking to the future for solutions, the Pew Report provides several suggestions for easing mandatory imprisonment and in creating behavioral changes before incarceration becomes the only punishment available for purchase.

The states are bleeding prison blues — and the only way out of an endless cycle of meaningless punishment and mindless reform is through educating the young mind and finding solid and effective diversion processes on the outside before imprisoning the body on the inside.

Space, time and budget bashing will tell if the national incarceration rate will drop or rise even further as we wonder if fear and longing will continue to press away thoughtful mindfulness.

18 Comments

  1. The sentence about incarcerations outnumbering those in SA is believable, but quite sad. Seeing as our crime rates in South Africa are so high, it should be the opposite way around.
    I found those photos astounding too! I had no idea the overcrowding was so bad in the US.

  2. I think you’re right, Karvain, that few politicians see the “vote value” in stopping crime in the crib instead of 18 years later when it is too late.
    The financial people, however, can’t make the numbers work any longer. More and more jails and prisons are being built, and filled with minorities, and the justice system just keeps filling up the cells as if they were unfillable voids.
    Conservative states like Texas, Nebraska and Kentucky are all working on diversion and education plans to try to put a stop on the prison bleeding. The “institutions” take a lot of people power 24/7/365 and that’s truly expensive.

  3. Hi Jenty!
    Thanks for the SA view! Do you use a judge and jury system or something else?
    It’s so ironic that the USA pokes fun at Australia as being founded by a “nation of criminals” while we are now the number one incarceration nation! Ha! How bitter the truth tastes!
    I somehow feel if the ratio of Race were more equal across all skin tones, we wouldn’t have as many people incarcerated. But right now the prisons are a way of removing the “undesirables” from society to punish the few for the benefit of the many — and now the numbers are undeniable.

  4. Karvain —
    I get where you’re going. Martha Stewart did do time, though. Yes, Marion will do time as will Barry and even O.J. if they’re finally found guilty.
    Sometimes you can’t have enough money to pay your way out if you’re Black and you “mess up the White Man’s game.” Somebody somewhere will require a punishment that sticks and stings.
    Clemens is in deep water now and he should confess and take a hit instead of stringing it out and damaging the game and his reputation. He should pay for ruining the game, but I’m sure Bush won’t let that happen in any significant way.

  5. There’s a reason why the best magazine on good health is called Prevention. I think the same thing goes with jails. There needs to be more emphasis on the prevention than the cure. Jail seems like putting a bandage on a bullet wound. You’re not getting the bullet out, you’re just covering it up.

  6. What about the propaganda and regulations that get these people in jail in the first place?
    Is it not just a problem because of the investment this country places on our incarceration but also the disjointed preoccupation with the war on drugs and other backwards mentality?
    If we didn’t put people in jail because of corporate and self-interested policies, we could focus on more economical and improved remedies for rehabilitation.