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List of Countries by Incarceration Rate (wikipedia.org)
42 points by hmrmaxwell on Nov 16, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 35 comments



When you take out the distortion in some of the small countries where population numbers are low (even below 100K), you're looking at a list of totalitarian countries or countries were civil rights have deteriorated most in the last years (i.e. sorted by that).

High incarceration rates most often indicate that governments are only in power by threatening their people or spreading fear. On top of that you see a (most likely) strong effect / high prisoner numbers created by the "commercialization" of putting people into prison - countries where prisons are run as a business.

Guaranteed prisoner numbers or occupancy levels agreed in such contracts (another demonstration that business ethics don't exist anymore) strongly contribute to high numbers and IMHO also express that governments in countries were such contracts / approaches are allowed have completely lost touch to their population.

In developed countries there are two diametrically opposite examples to where governments are trending towards in the moment:

The UK currently considering to play catch-up with the US by also privatizing prison "services" and guaranteeing inmate numbers / occupancy levels.

On the other side Sweden that just recently closed 4 prisons because they were not needed anymore.


> The UK currently considering to play catch-up with the US by also privatizing prison "services" and guaranteeing inmate numbers / occupancy levels

Privately run prisons in the US are not guaranteed inmate numbers or occupancy levels. That's a common misconception due to poor reporting on how the contracts are structured.

What they are actually guaranteed is a minimum payment. For instance, a contract might say that the prison company will take and maintain up to 100 prisoners, and the State will pay them each year the greater of $100k/prisoner or $9m.

This somehow gets reported as the contract guaranteeing that the State will keep a 90% occupancy rate in that prison.


Another thing to keep in mind is that the world is generally becoming a safer place - the violent crime statistics are trending downwards.


And the first country I'd even consider worth living in from this list is #42 Uruguay. Do you know what's the irony? I'm a US citizen. And I'm ashamed.


Interesting note about North Korea.

>North Korea estimates 150,000 to 200,000 incarcerated, which roughly equals the US imprisonment rate at 600-800 people incarcerated per 100,000


Is that including the large gulag-style prison camps?


And private prisons aren't going to help with this at all. Now we'll have people lobbying for even more prisoners and stricter laws, just to get their business growing.


This isn't useful unless you can also compare the crime rates in those countries (does high incarceration reduce crime?) as well as the percentage of drug offenses and the ease of drug import into those countries. I'd also like to see the execution rate for some or these countries. A prisoner is not incarcerated if they're dead.


The US should get rid of its Old Testament vengeance mentality. You cannot lock away social problems.


I like how the bottom of the list is so mixed. It seems to be extremely prosperous first world nations with so few social problems they get little crime, mixed with nations so poor, they can't afford police to catch criminals or prisons to keep them in.


That plus the factors of some localities that just kill people who commit bad enough crimes / allow people to walk on bribes routinely / vigilante justice etc


It's because in the USA justice always prevails.


Actual number of prisoners and other details about each country: http://www.prisonstudies.org/info/worldbrief/wpb_stats.php?a...

Although I think it would be more interesting to look at re-incarceration rate.


It would be interesting to see another column on the table with some sort of criminality metric per 100,000 people.


This is a bit biased if one is to interpret the incarceration rate as a form of the amount of crime.

Less developed countries look as if they have very little crime. The issue is the justice system cannot cope with the amount of crime or the crime is simply ignored due to corruption, bribery, etc.


It's not about crime, it's specifically about incarceration. The US locks people up for a very long time for very minor crimes (particularly if they're black). There's an industry that requires a steady stream of inmates, and they bribe politicians and judges to provide those inmates.

The true crime doesn't come from the inmates, it comes from the people locking them up.


Look, I mean... the US justice system has obvious problems. Too many people going to prison, a racial bias, lack of rehabilitation... whatever. You'd be a fool to deny that.

But is this really down to some kind of prison-industrial complex that "bribe[s] politicians and judges to provide inmates"? That seems a little far-fetched.

Let's use Hanlon's razor here - isn't it far more likely that the US incarceration rate is an artefact of endemic inequality, poor education, and a constant desire for politicians to appear "tough on crime"? Do we really need to bring bribes into it?


It definitely happens. I can only think of one concrete case off the top of my head, so here:

>The "kids for cash" scandal unfolded in 2008 over judicial kickbacks at the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Two judges, President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan, were accused of accepting money from Robert Mericle, builder of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities, in return for contracting with the facilities and imposing harsh sentences on juveniles brought before their courts to increase the number of inmates in the detention centers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kids_for_cash_scandal


It's probably both factors added on top of each other. There are other countries where politicians want to appear tough on crime, yet they don't come close to the US in incarcerations.

And the bribery definitely happens. As someone else pointed out already, a juvenile prison bribed judges to convict more kids. But I've also read about a state (Arkansas?) that has a contract with a new privatized prison to provide a guaranteed number of inmates for some time into the future. And you can bet they lobby for tougher sentences too.

Tough on crime can lead to terribly injustice, but for-profit prisons are guaranteed to lead to terrible injustice.


The other thing you are not considering is that incarceration is a business. The company that runs lots of private prisons and detention centers is a major contributor to both political parties.


Certainly looks like a biased list. Look at the bottom of the list and most of them are from Africa where you'd know the crime rates are high. May be, they are not 'punishable offenses' or they get let-off easily.


The data is objective -- surely not 100% accurate, like most data -- but only interpretations of it can be biased. There is obviously another important variable: the countries' level of development. Very poor countries have low incarceration rates because they don't have functional police and judicial systems.

But you can compare the USA to the rest of the western world: Europe, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. These countries share very similar societies, values, legal systems, forms of government and levels of economic development. With this simple filter the anomaly becomes clear and bias is harder to claim.


It's not biased. Those countries may have high crime, but they have low incarceration, which is what this page is about. The story here isn't the corruption in Africa that keeps criminals out of prison, it's the corruption in the US that puts innocents in prison.


I wonder why the rate is so high in Seychelles.

The only reason I know of the country is because it is used for evading tax in EU, and because I got a job-offer from a company that operates there, but I am a bit surprised of the high number.


Seychelles has a small population and a piracy problem, which is probably why they are so high on the list. I don't know much about Saint Kitt's, other than those two no one comes close to the US.


What's up in Greenland? It has such a small population that I doubt it's a hub of crime. Maybe Greenlanders live in poverty?


They are still in a post colonialism desert walk. They were simply dragged to fast from a traditional hunter gatherer society into the modern industrial age. Denmark kidnapped their children, banned their language, built concrete blocks from them to live in, which were unsuited for their traditional lifestyle, and gave them alcohol to drink. Pretty much the same story as what happened with most aborigines and natives in other colonies.

So of course things got bad. Lots of social issues. It is improving, more and more young people are getting an education, but they have a lot of social issues to deal with yet.


I suppose I should have expected as much. :(

Well, I hope things will improve.


I'm not sure but it's also has the highest suicide rate of any country in the world[]. It seems like quite a grim, desolate place to live, perhaps the isolation and constant daytime messes with peoples heads?

[] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_ra...


Interesting that Italy is only 139 th but we have prisons close to collapse due to overcrowding.


Has anyone noticed that one of the most populous countries is near the bottom?

Ranked 216 !!


Do you see a reason why the "per 100,000 population" wouldn't correct for population.


Maybe their justice system doesn't work very well.


Or maybe it works very well.

There are different reasons why a country might be low on the list. Maybe they have little crime, maybe they fight crime without locking people up for long periods of time, or maybe they lack the resources to fight crime.

If a country is high on the list, it could be they have insanely high crime, but it could also mean that they punish much harsher than other countries, or crime is not the primary motivation to lock people up.


USA NUMBER ONE!




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