Sunday, 5 February 2012

How many criminals do we lock up?

Quite a few, it would seem.

In 2009, 153 people per 100,000 were enjoying the hospitality offered by one of Her Majesty's hotels. The UK is in top half of the EU league table. We imprison more than Germany or France. Spain, on the other hand, jails more.

However, it is the US that leads the world. They incarcerate almost 0.75 percent of their population. Russia isn't far behind at 0.6 percent.

I wonder what would happen to UK crime rates if we had an incarceration rate similar to that in the US.


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droog said...

If you want to lock up that many people you need to find an easier way to do it than successfully convicting violent criminals. Russia and China go after political dissenters.

The USA does it by waging its expensive War on Drugs. Nixon launched that war in 1971. Forty years on and the US is nowhere near close to ending this war, let alone winning it. But they have taken lots of prisoners in the meantime. These prisoners go to for-profit, privatised prison administrators who lobby legislatures for (you guessed it) tougher laws that keep their prisons full beyond capacity. All of it taxpayer paid, of course. All of it adding to states' public debt figures.

Countries with those rates of incarceration aren't keeping crime out of the communities. Both Russia and the USA have higher homicide rates than the UK. I said before that in the USA crime is going down and nobody knows why. That's precisely what I meant: nobody is claiming the incarceration rate is the cause of the decline in crime. And homicide is still higher in the USA than in the UK by a ratio of about four to one (see link below)

Whatever is ailing the UK the USA's prison system is not the cure.

Electro-Kevin said...

Droog - Could it be anything to do with wider use of abortion ?

Alice - We ought to be incarcerating more people earlier on in their criminal careers. A combination of harshness and rehabilitation.

droog said...

There is a short, direct causal relation between the war on drugs and the number of people who wind up in jail because of it. It's right there if you read the charges of the people in prison in the US. A bunch of drug offenders, a large bunch of violent offenders in the drug trade, and then violent offenders not tied to the drug trade.

There isn't a mechanism as direct that would lead a higher abortion rate to get more people in prison (or to increase the homicide rate or rate of violent crimes). So trying to tie a homicide rate that is 400% higher in the USA to abortion rates that are 20% higher is not as clear a correlation. Specially if you are trying to use it as the primary cause instead of looking at drug offences first.

Anonymous said...

About one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are in prison in the US. Disproportionately high by a factor of more that three (source: Pew Center).

B in C

Anonymous said...

If you had longer prison sentences you would get less people in jail in the long term.
At the moment young people are given so many second chances that the law is considered a joke, they just know nothing is going to happen.
Even gang rapists only get 5-6 years, and will be out much earlier.

Disproportionate, Anon?
In what regard?
The crimerates in some of those intercity neighborhoods are much higher than average, so ofcourse people from those areas are more likely to be in prison.

droog said...

Anon The First has it right. There's all sorts of weird ways in which the judicial system comes down harder on minorities, particularly blacks.

Someone had the great idea of imposing harsher sentences for crack cocaine offences than for powder cocaine offences. Why? Who knows? Maybe powder cocaine is more family friendly or Fair Trade. Anyway, the consequence of the law is that wealthy people who can afford powder cocaine get lighter sentences than poor people on crack. And that hurts blacks more.

Another story I heard is that after controlling for all other variables governors and presidents are more likely to pardon white criminals than black ones. It's not an explicit policy, just bias at work.

Those are just two examples, but the social and cultural forces are still present, even if less strong than in the past.

Anonymous said...

By disproportionate I meant simply compared to other ethnic groups - and I mean both "disproportionate" and "ethnic" as neutral, descriptive terms.

If one wants to ask if this raises moral questions, it does, both of the subtle differences noted above by Droog and of the thornier questions about the relationship between poverty, crime rates and ethnicity. Poor people get into this sort of crime more easily, I expect, and are more likely to get caught too. They have more limited economic opportunities; and, yes, they live in poorer neighbourhoods where there is a greater concentration of the visible forms of drugs and drug-related crime.

Of course, it is equally wrong for a poor person to go for drug-related crime or a rich person to go for white-collar crime. I'm not seeking to justify either, This is just about facts, description.

RenterGirl said...

The point about disproportionate levels of incarceration for ethnic minorities needs restating. Also - poor people's lack of quality defence (the murder trial where the fact that the defence attorney slept throughout the trial was not considered disadvantageous to the the trial.)There is also a hard to make case for correlation between low crime and high levels of imprisonment. Other factors are at play.

Michael Fowke said...

I think in America the more money you have the more justice you get.

Anonymous said...

Lock em up. Find them and flog em...

Anonymous said...

I don't think this statistic tells us much on its own. How about comparing rates of imprisonment with crime rates?