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- Why do you think the United States incarcerates so many more people than other countries?
The United States jails more people per capita than every other country in the world, except Seychelles. There were 707 people in prison for every 100,000 residents in the United States in 2012, just two less than Seychelles’s 709 per 100,000.
To put this in perspective, Seychelles is a tiny island nation with a total population of less than 100,000 people. That means that there are actually less than 709 people total in the whole country.
The United States prison populations was more than 2 million in 2012. It doesn’t really make much sense to compare the U.S. to tiny countries with relatively miniscule populations.
Here’s a chart that looks at the incarceration rate of the 50 most populous countries in the world, except North Korea:
Even Russia, the second country on this ranking of 50, jails a little more than half as many people as United States, “the land of the free.”
So why are so many people in prison in the United States? The Prison Policy Initiative, a watchdog group looked at the most recent prison stats available and figured out what sorts of prisons people were locked up in, and for what reasons.
Here’s a chart that looks at inmates by the type of correctional facility they’re in, and by the charges filed against them:
- According to the "principle of utility," is it appropriate to incarcerate such large numbers of people?
According to utilitarians, the right thing to do is always to maximize happiness.
Libertarians think that the right thing to do is most often to let people do whatever
they want. John Locke’s theory says that there are unalienable rights afforded to
every human being by the “law of nature.”
The philosopher Immanuel Kant thought that each of these views was mistaken.
Against the utilitarians, Kant held that freedom—and not happiness—is the goal of
morality; against the libertarians, Kant denied that freedom consists in doing whatever
one wants; and against Locke, he held that morality, duty, and rights have their
basis in human reason, not in a law of nature.
- Is it appropriate to incarcerate minorities disproportionately to their representation in United States society?
The interaction between race or minority status and the criminal justice system is a particularly salient aspect of the racial problems in the United States, and it represents one of the crucial issues that must be addressed as the nation tries to deal with its racial conflicts. There is a large disproportionate representation of minorities, especially Blacks, involved in all aspects of the criminal justice system; and this disproportionality alone, regardless of its legitimacy, conveys a profound sense of unfairness to the overrepresented groups. That sense of unfair treatment is certainly reflected in many polls that show a sharp difference between minority groups and others in their assessment of the fairness of the system. By its very name, the “justice” system carries a particularly heavy burden—it must not only be fair, but it must also be seen as being fair. These concerns are undoubtedly why one of the four missions President Clinton posed to the Race Initiative Advisory Board was to “address crime and the administration of justice.”
There are clearly profound differences in the involvement of different racial groups with the criminal justice system. The differences are most stark between Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites. For example:
This critique is based on Randall Kennedy’s paper, “Racial Trends in the Administration of Criminal Justice,” prepared for the Research Conference on Racial Trends in the United States. National Research Council, Washington, D.C., October 15–16, 1998.
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