International Elevated Thought Conference
The Mass Incarceration Problem in America
The United States has an enormous prison problem. A more-than-2.4-million-prisoner-sized problem, to be precise, locked up in the archipelago of federal penitentiaries, state corrections facilities, and local jailhouses that form the nation's thriving prison-industrial complex. Since 1980, the number of incarcerated citizens in the US has more than quadrupled, an unprecedented rise that can attributed to four decades of tough-on-crime oneupmanship, and a draconian war on drugs.
Today, more than one out of every 100 Americans is behind bars, and the US has the largest prison population in the world, both in terms of the actual number of inmates and as a percentage of the total population. The numbers are staggering: the US incarceration rate is nearly 3.5 times higher than that of Mexico, a country that has spent the last decade in the throes of an actual drug war, and between five and ten times higher than those seen in Western Europe. There are more people locked up in the US than in China. In fact, the US is home to nearly a quarter of the world's prisoners, despite accounting for just 5 percent of the overall global population.
But the data gets even more disturbing when broken down at the state level. A recent analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative shows that while states like Louisiana have undoubtedly led America's march toward mass incarceration, no state or region has been immune to the prison boom. And each state is a global aberration, with incarceration rates that compare to those found in isolated dictatorships and countries recovering from civil war.
As the chart shows, 36 states have higher incarceration rates than Cuba, the country with the world's second highest prison rate. New York comes in just above Rwanda, which is still trying thousands of people in connection to the 1994 genocide. Even Vermont, birthplace of Phish, Ben & Jerry's, and the country's only socialist senator, imprisons a higher percentage of its population than countries like Israel, Mexico, or Saudi Arabia.
Looked at in terms of actual inmate numbers, this means that the number of people behind bars in most US states is on par with the prison populations of entire nations. And not Luxembourg or Burundi. Big, messy countries, like Venezuela and Egypt.
International Elevated Thought Conference 2017