Where does America rank first?

Can you identify this ranking in which the United States places first, among 218 nations surveyed?

Feel free to post your guess, as well.




























The answer beneath the fold…

This ranking comes from the International Centre for Prison Studies’ World Prison Brief. The United States  has the most total prisoners in the world, beating the next highest country, China, by about 44%, and unsurprisingly thus boasts the highest incarceration rate. In the United States, 748 people out of every 100,000 people are in prison. Ironically, despite the uproar over China’s imprisonment of political dissidents and Liu Xiaobo in particular, China ranks at 116th in the world by imprisonment rate, with only 120 out of every 100,000 in prison.

Slate had an excellent piece connecting the dots between prisons and the poverty cycle in the United States, based on a recent paper called “Incarceration and Inequality” published in MIT’s Daedalus Journal. Here are some interesting, and staggering, facts from the paper:

  • With 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. hosts upward of 20 percent of its prisoners.
  • The lifetime risk of imprisonment for black males by age 30-34 is 26.8%; this number rises to 68% for black high school dropouts. Compare this to the white population where there is only a 5.4% lifetime risk of imprisonment, rising to 28% for white high school dropouts.
  • Incarceration creates invisible inequality. Conventional data showing a 40% employment rate among black male dropouts does not account for the number currently incarcerated. The employment rate drops to 25% if you include the number behind bars.
  • Incarceration is associated with a 40% decrease in earning potential. Studies show a criminal record will reduce callbacks by 50% on otherwise identical resumes. 20 years after being released, fewer than a quarter of the ex-con high school dropout population will rise above the bottom 20% income bracket.
  • 1.75% of white children have a parent behind bars. 11% of African American children have a parent behind bars.
  • Aside from suffering materially, children of incarcerated parents, boys especially, are at greater risk of developmental delays and behavioral problems.

A few immediate conclusions spring to mind. First, I have no doubt that the causal relationship flows from school dropout to crime to incarceration. Dropouts walk away from the grammatical sentence toward the penal sentence, and it’s important to remember that impedance in fixing our school system can have more dire consequences than a merely uneducated populace. Second, we should start considering the lifelong and intergenerational effects of a incarceration when crafting laws, and when handing down long prison sentences. Aside from simply discussing the classical tenets of punishment–retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation–we can think about the disutility widespread punishment places on today’s society and tomorrow’s. As for rehabilitation, our ex-cons are not fully-functioning citizens upon exiting the prison gates. They are unemployable due to stigma, a lack of work experience, and ingrained behavioral patterns (absorbed before and during prison) unconducive to normal productive life. Rehabilitation should aim to make prisoners not only non-criminals upon release, but able and skilled workers who are ready to contribute. There should be more job placement assistance after release, and the government should increase tax credits for hiring ex-cons and parolees.

Anything is less expensive than maintaining a $70 billion/year corrections system that only grows with each passing year.


One thought on “Where does America rank first?

  1. “Dropouts walk away from the grammatical sentence toward the penal sentence.”

    Favorite line in the piece by far.

    But yes, the United States has a long proud history of frightening statistics in regards to prisons, and especially, the death sentence.

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