Attitude Media Crime and Punishment

Justice for an Unjust World

by, John F Groom

  • 8 of 18

The Penal System

      The very high incarceration rate in the US has an obvious human cost, as well as a very high financial cost. A report by the organization, "The Price of Prisons," states that the cost of incarcerating one inmate in Fiscal 2010 was $31,307 per year. "In states like Connecticut, Washington state, New York, it's anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000. Yes - $60,000 a year. That's a teacher's salary, or a firefighter's. Our epidemic of incarceration costs US taxpayers $63.4 billion a year.” (

     The US incarcerates far too many people, but it executes far too few. While there were over 3,100 people on death row in the US in mid-2013, only a tiny fraction are actually executed every year.
Number of Americans executed: Year Number of people 2009 51 2010 46 2011 43 2012 43 This is roughly

the number that die from dog bites in the US each year (38 in 2012) but far, far fewer than die from suicides, which was 36,909 in 2009, the latest year for which data is available)
     In 2011 there were 12,664 murders in America, so the chance of being executed for a murder was about 1 in 300. Thus, the vast majority of killers do “get away with murder”, at least in the fundamental sense that they live while their victims die. Currently, around 40% of murders go unsolved in America, but this is actually a vast improvement over time. According to a survey done by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1927, about 90% of all violent crime in America at that time went unpunished. (Source: “One Summer” by Bill Bryson, p.37)
     In analyzing US incarceration rates one has to be careful with the numbers. Most prisoners are held in state, not federal facilities, and many are in local jails for short periods. Here is a breakdown:

Prisoners in 2012

  • Number of people in federal prisons: 217,815
  • Number of people in state prisons: 1,571,013
  • Average daily local jail population: 735, 983
  • Total US prison population: 2,524,811

   Different studies will produce different numbers, but the overall conclusion that the US incarcerates the most people is not controversial. Note that the numbers above are only for those actually incarcerated; there are a far larger number on parole, about 4.5 million, for a total of about 7 million that are under some form of correctional supervision, either in jail or on parole, in the United States. (
“The United States has about 5 percent of the world's population, but we have 25 percent of the world's prisoners - we incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any country on Earth," said Michael Jacobson, director of the non-partisan Vera Institute of Justice.
Here’s a look at US incarceration rates compared to select other countries in 2012:
Per 100,000 citizens, with ranking in first column for highest incarceration rates:

  • - US (1) 716
  • - Cuba (5) 510
  • - Russia (8) 479
  • - China (127) 121
  • - Canada: (135) 114
  • - India (215) 30

    •    Shockingly enough, you are about 6 times as likely to be in prison in the US as in China or Canada. (Source: wsj 8.17.13, statshot, international centre for prison studies.)
      The numbers below show what US prisoners are in jail for in the US federal prison system
      USA ( Drug Offenses: 89,506 (46.8 %) Weapons, Explosives, Arson: 31,380 (16.4 %) Immigration: 22,402 (11.7 %) Robbery: 7,892 (4.1 %) Burglary, Larceny, Property Offenses: 7,844 (4.1 %) Extortion, Fraud, Bribery: 11,116 (5.8 %) Homicide, Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping Offenses: 5,733 (3.0 %) Sex Offenses: 11,800 (6.2 %)
      Data as of 24 August 2013
      Different countries have different ways of classifying crime, so The data is not always comparable, but here are some numbers for Australia:
      The most prevalent offences/charges for prisoners (either sentenced or unsentenced) were:

      • - Acts intended to cause injury (20%)
      • - Sexual assault (12%)
      • - Illicit drug offences (12%)
      • - Unlawful entry with intent (11%)
      • - Homicide (10%)
      • - Robbery (10%)
      • - Extortion (10%)

      • And for England and Wales

        • • Violence against the person 11%
        • • Sexual offences 1.29%
        • • Burglary 5.7 %
        • • Robbery 2.4%
        • • Theft and handling stolen goods 37%
        • • Fraud and forgery 6.3%
        • • Criminal damage 3,2%
        • • Drug offences 14%
        • • Other (excluding motoring offences) 14%

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