“In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”

No more.
One of the statistics which I have been repeating the most frequently ever since I learned it doing volunteer work for Amnesty in 1998 is gone over in a big article in the NY Times: America imprisons more people than any other country on Earth. It does so any way you slice it: per capita, sum total, everything. 751 people are in prison per 100.000 in the United States. This was the fact that finally convinced me that the United States was a large-scale failed nation with a really good PR agent. It is not a country which should be giving us advice. If a country needs to imprison more people than any other country in order to function, it does not function.

Despite this massive, ongoing scandal - ongoing these past 20 years now, since the draconian and misguided drug crackdown that started in the 1980s - this seems to be a hugely underreported fact in US media, or really any media at all. So I'm happy that the NY Times has been publishing a series of stories about the US prison system, the first one of which is in the link above.

I'm actually a little skeptical of the fact that the Times even quotes people like Attorney General Mukasey in the article.
Many American prosecutors, on the other hand, say that locking up people involved in the drug trade is imperative, as it helps thwart demand for illegal drugs and drives down other kinds of crime. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, for instance, has fought hard to prevent the early release of people in federal prison on crack cocaine offenses, saying that many of them “are among the most serious and violent offenders.”
Which would be cool, if it were true. Simple, easy, understandable. But it just isn't true. While the number of convictions of drug users keeps rising, availability of drugs in the US has remained more or less completely static over the course of the past decade. Demand changes according to the rest of the economy, not the availability.

So why do they ask Mukasey? Only because he is powerful. He is not an authority on the topic, and doesn't belong in the coverage.


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