Counting Criminals

Spencer Asch

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Since 1925, the United States’ prison population has expanded at an exponential rate, making the U.S. number one in the world with 2.2 million people currently incarcerated. Based on numbers provided by the London Institute for Criminal Policy, second and third place are taken by Russia and Rwanda, respectively, but the U.S. leaves them in the dust. At 670 people per 100,000, the United States nearly doubles the numbers for either of the previously mentioned countries. The United States is not nearly the largest country in the world, so why is the number of people incarcerated so high by comparison? Here’s how I break it down.

As of 2015, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses has increased from roughly 50,000 in 1980 to an almost ridiculous 470,000, according to data gathered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). That is a 940% increase over the span of just 35 years. Other countries’, especially in Western and Northern Europe, drug policies have grown comparatively more lenient than here in the United States when it comes to sentencing. Not only are more and more non-violent drug offenders being placed behind bars with criminals for far more nefarious crimes, but they are being locked up on the taxpayers’ dime.

Between 1985 and 2015, state expenditures on corrections increased from 6.7 to 56.8 billion dollars, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. That’s 8.5 times the original numbers over the course of just 30 years. This directly connects legislation on crime to an increase in the amount citizens must pay to “feel safe in their own homes”. But the question is this: is crime in America really increasing? The number of incarcerated people indicates that it is, but that’s not really the case. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more commonly known as the FBI, the statistics for violent crime are actually going down. In 2015, there were a total of 1,197,704 violent crimes committed around the nation. That may seem like a large number, but it was actually 0.7% lower than 2011 levels and 16.5% lower than those of 2006.
At the end of the day, I’m not for nor against the prison system. Do I think it could use some work and be updated to match current trends? Sure I do. But I also support the incarceration of those who break the law. As citizens, it is our right to protest institutionalized practices of governance, such as the way that imprisonment policy is legislated. Do I think that there are some laws that need to be changed? Of course. But until they are in fact changed, I ally myself in strong support of the law being the law. Violators cannot go unpunished, but the degree to which they are punished is for the system to establish and shape, something that we ourselves can take a part in as educated and concerned citizens.

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Counting Criminals