US: Prison Central

Vineyardsaker has a provocative post on Ahmadinejad’s description of America as a “big prison.” He posts this chilling data (emphasis added):

Incarcerations per 100,000 population (sample):

1014____Texas (in 1999) (governor George W. Bush)
1013____Louisiana (2001)
715_____United States of America (2001)
584_____Russian Federation
402_____South Africa
189_____Hong Kong (China)
178_____Czech Republic
177_____Greenland (Denmark)
161_____New Zealand
158_____El Salvador
142_____United Kingdom: England & Wales
125_____Republic of (South) Korea

Now surely, some regimes have more draconian prisons than the US. But consider the absolute reality of the situation. American prisons are also worse than some other nations’, with widespread rape, brutality, inter-prison gang violence. And we can’t forget that half or so of American prisoners are in there for non-crimes — victimless offenses against the state, such as drug, gun and tax violations. Then there are hundreds of thousands of property criminals and others who, for all their criminality, surely do not deserve being shoved in cages for years on end. America’s terribly sorry record on prisons alone would seem to put the lie to the idea of this country as the world’s greatest shining embodiment of freedom and human dignity. Before Americans talk about liberating the rest of the world, they should look at the rape rooms in their own neighborhoods, housing hundreds of thousands of non-violent enemies of the state.

32 thoughts on “US: Prison Central”

  1. As always, Anthony, spot on. Having spent three wonderful years in Japan–a far freer country than the land of the free, I might add–I can attest first hand to the sad state of American "freedom."

    1. Japan is far freer than the US? Having a loved one in prison in Japan I would dispute that. I am 11 hours away from Japan & I am not allowed phone calls with him. A woman I know recently lost a son, her other son in a Japanese prison was not even allowed a phone call with his mother when he heard his brother had died. Cruel! Also being punished in prison for not closing ones legs when sitting working in the factory (forced labour) – days in solitary confinement. How many men sit with their legs closed? Cruel! So forgive me if I am hesitant to believe that Japan is ‘far freer than the land of the free’.

    1. It is true that we have way too many people in jail, especially for non-violent and drug crimes. But how many people are in jail in the United States for crimes of “sexual immorality.” In Iran and other Muslim radical countries they can throw you in jail for being gay, for committing adutury, for “fornication” outside of marriage, etc. They also throw people in jail for dissenting and speaking out against the government, for “offending” Islam, etc. For all of our mistakes, I would still choose the USA any day….and I bet a lot of folks in Iranian jails would as well!

      1. Memo to Tim: I hope you can maintain the upbeat attitude as our rights and liberties erode. Habeas Corpus is now in the rearview mirror. Gonzo said it in front of a senate hearing. What’s next. Just a matter of time. For those of us that grew up in the 50’s,things were different. The acceleration of these losses is stunning. But you know if you want to cook a frog,start with cold water and add gradual heat.

        1. If you just studied history you would see that anything President Bush has done to curtail civil liberties has been extraordinarily mild compared with past Presidents during times of national crisis. President Abraham Lincoln unilaterally and without congressional authorization, suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus all-together.

          President Franklin D. Rooslevelt rounded up Japanese American citizens and detained them in camps. FDR’s actions were UPHELD by the US Supreme Court in a case called Korematzu. The Court properly understood something that some of you liberals don’t understand: “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

        2. No offense, but this caught my eyes: please just tell me since when is exercising your natural rights a “suicide” and who appointed anyone to declare them as such?

      2. Two wrongs don’t make a right…hasn’t your mother taught you anything??? US is out of tough and quickly falling into a prison state!~!!!

      3. Surely, Iran has plenty of evil laws on the books. But are more people in prison, per capita, for non-crimes in Iran or in America? The numbers seem to indicate the answer is America.

        There are, of course, victimless sex crimes in America too — notably, prostitution.

      4. I agree that it’s wrong for Iran to punish people for consensual activities. So let’s take a look at those statistics again.

        The US has a prison population rate of 715 per 100,000, while Iran is at only 194. The difference is 519 prisoners per 100,000. If the US changed its criminal justice system to the Iranian standard, we would release 1.56 million prisoners who were convicted of what most likely were merely consensual crimes!

        Even if only 1% of that number has had their life expectancy cut short by incarceration — by the stress of beatings and rapes, and so much more that is the hell of prison life — then that’s 15,000 people who were convicted of the crime of minding their own business, then have been de facto executed by the US criminal justice system.

        The 194 prisoners per 100,000 in Iran is probably too high a rate in itself. But it’s a sad day in the Land of the Free when a comparison with the legal system of a repressive Islamic Republic indicates that we have 1.5 million more prisoners for consensual activities than they do.

        The argument is not that Iran is ‘freer’ than America. The argument is that, here at home, we got some fixin’ to do. Ron Paul 2008.

  2. More than you might imagine. Please tell that to the young man in jail in Utah for consensual oral sex with his girlfriend.

  3. Obviously, the privation of incarceration has a lot to do with the USA leading the field [and in such illustrious company (no pun intended)!]. I can’t see my home country Australia (a really big prison for Brits 200 years ago) nor my current place of residence (Japan) in that list. But I’m sure that the prison industry will get some opportunities for more business there/here in the future. And yes, Japan is pretty free unless you wanna smoke weed. You’re better off fondling a schoolgirl on the train.

  4. Yeah, I’m pretty sure Johnny Howard would be mightily pissed with us NOT being on that list. The little authoritarian rodent that he is. Seems it’ll be left up to Rudd to get our numbers up.

  5. You can always split hairs and defend the US (or the west, for that matter) on just about any issue.

    Democracy without equality is injustice for the minorities (gays, blacks, women). Capitalism unchecked by socialism
    eventually leads to unequality. We are losing that balance in the US, and also in Canada. Was it Benjamin Frankin that said we need a revolution every 20 years. Now, why would he say something like that, and 200 years ago, at that!.

    No freedom with justice. No justice without equality. No equality with unchecked capitalism.

    1. We hardly have unchecked capitalism. The prison industrial complex is corporate socialism. Without the socialist powers of the state, nothing like it is possible. The free market couldn’t sustain a drug war, or the war in Iraq. Who would finance it?

  6. Dear friends,

    I just wanted to clarify one thing: I reposted an article from the Iranian TV station called “PRESS TV” (as the original post on my blog shows) and I added a commentary with begins with the words “FYI – here is a comparison of worldwide incarceration rates:…”. I then cross-posted the entire thing on the Stressblog. Thus, the summary of Ahmadinejad’s comments are *not* mine. I also added the following info for a more complete picture:


    -In the USA, Blacks and Hispanics make up 62 percent of the incarcerated population, though comprising only 25 percent of the national population;

    -Between ten and fifteen percent of black men are incarcerated in twelve states (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming);

    -Black women are incarcerated at rates between ten and thirty-five times greater than the rates of white women in fifteen states (Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming); and

    -Hispanic youth are incarcerated at rates seven to seventeen times greater than those of whites in Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, while the incarceration rate for black youth is between twelve and twenty-five times greater than those of whites in Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, and New Jersey.

    (See the World Incarceration Website for more details)


    In 2004 there were more than 800,000 full-time sworn law enforcement officers in the United States
    Type of agency Number of agencies Number of full-time
    sworn officers
    Total 836,787
    All State and local 17,876 731,903
    Local police 12,766 446,974
    Sheriff 3,067 175,018
    Primary State 49 58,190
    Special jurisdiction 1,481 49,398
    Constable/Marshal 513 2,323
    Federal* 104,884
    Note: Special jurisdiction category includes both State-level and local-level agencies. Consolidated police-sheriffs are included under local police category. Agency counts exclude those operating on a part-time basis.
    *Non-military federal officers authorized to carry firearms and make arrests.

    (as far as I understand this does not include folks working in jails, prisons, penitentiaries, etc., though I am not sure about that)

    All this adds up to a national rate of full-time law enforcement employees per 1,000 inhabitants of at 3.5 (in 2004) which also the highest in the world.

    Lastly, remember the huge “security-intelligence complex” composed of the SIXTEEN official US intelligence and security agencies and the equally “huge private intelligence sector” and you really get a sense of how much a prison the USA has become.

    For a formatted version please see the original post ( on my blog.

    Kind regards,

    The Saker

  7. My brothers friend was convicted of distributing 1/2 ounce of pot and got 15 years first offense(federal) he spent 5 years in the pen and after he was released he committed suicide because of what had happened in prison. This young man was a tax paying model citizen other than smoking pot.
    He was set up by the gestapo like DEA. But they didn’t bust the person in the house where the pot came from just the guy that delivered it to him in the car outside the house!
    To end the story on a the agent ended up getting shot in the knee at a local gas station then left town, chicken s**t.
    Had to edit my wording so as not to go to jail for what I say, happens everyday in the good ol usa.

    NOTE: It was Thomas Jefferson that said we need a revolution every 7 years!

    1. Jefferson, yes. Every 7 years, no. He suggested every generation. Good idea then; good now. “The Tree of Liberty is watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

  8. Here in Seattle, the cops often wander the streets downtown and harass black guys. They stop them for no reason and ask for ID, and then write something in their little notebooks. If they don’t have ID the cops arrest them. I see it all the time at rush hour.

  9. Wow! China, a purported world record abuser at the bottom? Let’s go there! Seriously fellow Americans, I’ve been there quite a number of times. I felt a hell of a lot more safer in the big city streets (of Shanghai) at midnight than I ever had at noon time in NY, Chicago, or LA. And it’s just not the populace, it’s the pigs that are too weird for me the the U.S. And for all those a–holes who will tell me to go there, I’ve already made plans to–to retire.

    1. Folks, get used to it. You live in a Police State – unfortunately – and you’ve been living in it since at least the 1920s. The only thing different at that time was that this Police State you now have was not so arrogantly overt in those days like it it today and its police force wasn’t paramilitarized to the point that the police officers look like soldiers in the front lines of some war and not what they should look like. And you can all count on this that it will get worse. And not only in the US but in the EU as well. Who exactly is behind this? It’s a small group of very rich and maniacally murderous people who use their vast wealth to achieve this. They all think they are better than you and I. It is the same entity behind this Police State or American Gulag if you will, which is responsible directly for this massive world restructuring in Europe and elsewhere, regardless of geographical boundaries. Money knows no boundaries and neither does corruption. The best alternative for the folks who can do this is to move to a different country, preferably S. America. Forget about China. S. America is better than China and it is European in appearance as well as demographically, but in the end the Police State system will engulf all nations regardless of geography or demography. There is no way out of this except temporarily, by expatriating yourselves and when I say this I mean you’ll gain by moving maybe another 10 to 20 years of relative freedom which has totally disappeared in our once great land. I know a lot of people will disagree with this, but I know what I’m saying here. It is far easier and safer to leave now than later when you will need to JUSTIFY your request to leave the country. Just wait some 5 or 10 more years and it will get there. And if you can’t justify it (they define what’s justifiable and what’s not, not YOU) they will deny your request and possibly even throw you in one of their homosexual-infested dungeons for having the arrogance to display such lack of “patriotism” in that you want to abandon your nation. If Congress gets wind of a lot of people leaving the country and settling somewhere else they will pass some law to stop the exodus, because they need every single individual. Make no mistake: this will come, maybe not in 10 years, but it will come.

      1. Karoly states that in less than 10 years people will be fighting to get out of this country and Congress won’t let them. Are you joking?! Or are you crazy?

        No matter what terrible mistakes this country has made, and continues to make, millions of people from all over the world are fighting to get IN. Ever since the Statue of Liberty was erected, she has stood for freedom, and millions of the worlds poor and oppressed, “the huddled masses” have been welcomed.

        In East Germany they fought to get out, in the Soviet Union and in all the countries behind the “Iron Curtain they fought to get out. And still today, from Cuba from Mexico, from all over the globe they try to get out. And where do they come? As Neil Diamond once said they come to America!

        And by the way, if you really think this is a police state, why do you willingly live here?

  10. The real expansion of the prison system and population really only dates to the 1970s (

    There are already murmurs of change, which we have to keep pushing for. It will take some politician with guts to prick the conscience of the American public, which is slow to awake. As Churchill said, “The United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative.”

  11. People clammoring to get out of the US and Congress stopping them? It could happen if the economy goes south relative to other places in the world, expecially if we have a draft to boot. People generally migrate for economic opportunity. The dollar is sinking fast as a lot of accumulated debt comes home to roost. It doesn’t look like a depression is coming, rather something more like “slow rot”. Congress can’t stand by and allow its draft pool to escape any more than they can allow a “brain drain” to take place. For decades we have benefitted from a “brain drain” from the FSU and rest of world, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Congress won’t allow the reverse to occur. They will pass and enforce draconian laws if it comes to that.

  12. Keep in mind, one reason China and Iran have such small prison populations is that they execute so many people. Executions are a hell of a lot more efficient in countries that aren’t burdened by “legal process”. And fast execution IS a deterrent, keeping crime down.

    1. I don’t think Iran’s execution rates would account for the disparity. But yes, some other police states slaughter more people than our own.

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