(Originally put up on May 24, 2012 – now reissued!)
It is my privilege to present my colleague, William Denton. Some days ago he showed me this article and I was very impressed. He has very kindly offered to share it with my readers. It is my pleasure to present the work of our guest columnist, William Denton.
The United States and The imprisonment Rate
By: William Denton
America is known throughout the world as a place of freedom, where anyone has the chance to do and become whatever their heart desires also referred to as “The American Dream.” America is considered home to approximately 5 percent of the world’s population, although America is known for its many attributes and liberties it holds 23 percent of the world’s prison population making the United States the highest prison populated country in the world, (“Wikipedia, 2012). Our prison rate along with our continuous dilemma of overcrowding prisons can be attributed to our enacted draconian laws that make any chance of success to reduce our prison rate and subsequently alleviating our over-crowded prisons impossible. In a 2009 statistical study 754 per 100,000 American Citizens are incarcerated. In the previous year, “a report released in February 2008, indicates that more than 1 in 100 adults in the United States are in prison,” (“Wikipedia, 2012).
Each U.S. state is responsible for the United States ranking 1st in the world for its high incarceration rate. However, when examined individually each state incarceration rate can vary from 854 per 100,000 to 151 per 100,000 citizens, (“Wikipedia,” 2012). The infamous three strike laws and the mandatory minimum sentencing have caused the explosive increase in the incarceration rate nationwide, leaving each to implement methods if any, to alleviate the growing issue of their overcrowded prisons. Some will argue that a state with a higher incarceration rate compared to a state with a lower incarceration rate is due to the state that has the highest and lowest crime rate. Although that can be an arguable point it still doesn’t explain why for example Louisiana incarceration rate is 854 per 100,000 citizens and other states have incarceration rates anywhere from 151-300 per 100,000 citizens, (“Wikipedia,” 2012). Another aspect that is irrelevant into claiming why one state has a higher incarceration rate than another is because of the state’s population which is going to subsequently have a higher crime rate. We know that Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate, but ranks 25th for population, while New York ranks 3rd for highest population and is ranked 37th for incarceration rate at 307 per 100,000 citizens, (“Wikipedia,” 2012). The population of a state and crime can be determining factors of a states incarceration rate, however, other factors that have remarkable results in having low incarceration rates are the states who have sufficient “parole and probation programs; diversion programs, increasing good-time programs for people incarcerated, and sentencing reforms for non-violent offenders,” (Morris, 2009). Without any implementations to reduce the incarceration rate states will continue to have these unnecessary draconian numbers.
The United States compared to Russia who holds 2nd place for incarceration rates, followed by South Africa ranked 3rd and Europe who ranked 4th is still substantially higher than the runners up. Russia who has a 611 per 100,000 people incarceration rate compared to the United States is a 134 per 100,000 differences. That difference alone is substantially higher than that of many other nations worldwide. The state of Louisiana who again has an 854 per 100,000 incarceration rate is higher than our nation’s current imprisonment rate and every other nation worldwide, (“Wikipedia, 2012). Although there are multifarious reasons along with speculations of why America has the highest incarceration rate, two factors are true today. Reason one being that American citizens are “being locked up from writing bad checks to using drugs that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries,” (Liptak, 2008). The second reason being the American Citizen is “kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners of other nations,” (Liptak, 2008).
In my opinion only, I think American Law has gotten to the point of everything being political correct and that anyone who commits a crime has to be punished no matter what the crime is. These draconian drugs laws are really the culprits that are responsible for the major increase in our prison population and overcrowding. The majority of inmates incarcerated today are for non-violent drug offenses that initially when these laws were enacted during the “War on Drugs” campaign where to mainly target the producers and distributors of the drug trade not the additive customers that are being sentenced today. As a result of these laws still in effect, although the violent crime rate is decreasing in the country, prison population is still increasing. I think that is how we stand above all other nations in the incarceration rate because of our drug laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and three-strike laws. As I mentioned above, writing bad checks to drug offenses are rarely imprisonment punishments in other countries, and our country has longer prison sentences that contribute overcrowded prisons. We are punishing for offenses that probably could be resolved through other forms of punishment that does not have to do with imprisonment just like other countries.
I am completely against our statics involving our imprisonment rate and the number of incarcerated inmates we currently have. There are a couple states that have a higher imprisonment rate than actual countries throughout the world. These statics need to be pounded into someone’s head and take a hint of what reformalities we need to reduce these harsh rates. These enacted three-strike rules and mandatory minimum sentences, and all other harshly related drug laws need to change. They are ruining lives, in lieu of helping people and destroying families for what? Nothing. Drugs are an addictive substance that people need help to reform, so putting these non-violent offenders in overcrowded prisons is not going to rectify the problem, but going to make it worse. I feel like we are wasting our money for no positive gains when it comes to incarcerating offenders for drug offenses and other minor crimes that can be solved in another form of punishment. Are American laws are in desperate need for reform.
Liptak, A. (2008). U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations. Retrieved March 18, 2012, from
Morris, T. (2009). Louisianan’s Incarceration rate is No. 1 in nation. Retrieve March 17, 2012, from
Wikipedia. (2012). Incarceration rates worldwide. Retrieved March 16, 2012, From
Wikipedia. (2012). List of U.S. States and Territories by population. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from
Wikipedia. (2012). List of U.S. States by incarceration rate. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from
- Extreme sentence in warning shot case drawing more criticisms of mandatory minimums (sentencing.typepad.com)
- Mandatory minimums require federal drug defendant’s sentence of life + five more years in prison (sentencing.typepad.com)
- Prison overcrowding puts system in trouble (kfor.com)
- Dan Froomkin: If Prison Is the Disease, Not the Cure, How Do You Treat It? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Continued great reporting on the toughest state in incarceration nation (sentencing.typepad.com)
- Must-read: “Louisiana Incarcerated: How we built the world’s prison capital” (prisonmovement.wordpress.com)
- Ana Kasparian explains how Louisiana sheriffs are motivated to incarcerate (rawstory.com)
- Woman gets 20 years for firing warning shot (newsok.com)
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