Down in the Hole in America | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

Down in the Hole in America 

Published April 24, 2008 at 11:42 a.m.

The New York Times: "The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prison population . . . . Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to usingdrugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries."

The Times reports that the U.S. has the highest number of prisoners per 100,000 population — 751 — in the world. That's compared to Japan, 63; Germany, 88 and England, 151. Even Russia and China stick fewer people in jail cells than the United States. And no one imposes longer prison sentences than American judges.

According to the Times' experts, a number of factors help explain the country's "extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels ofviolent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, aspecial fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament,and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, asjudges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield topopulist demands for tough justice."

The Times story doesn't dig into two related issues: the conditions in American prisons; and who benefits when the answer to every anti-social act is a jail cell.

Seven Days readers are probably familiar with Paul Wright, an ex-con from Brattleboro who has become a fierce advocate for U.S. prisoners. Wright started up Prison Legal News in 1990, and has documented dozens of cases of prisoner abuse and exploitation. In January, PLN reported (subscription required) that Vermont leads the country in the percentage of prisoners who take anti-psychotic medications.

Check out Ken Picard's fascinating March 2007 profile of Wright here.

Wright and PLN just published a new anthology, called Prison Profiteers: Who Profits from Mass Incarceration, that examines the $185billion taxpayers spend locking people up in America. The book looks at the private prisoncompanies, investment banks, churches, medicalcorporations and other industries and individuals that benefit fromthe prison business.  

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Tags: ,

More By This Author

About The Author

Brian Wallstin

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2


Comments are closed.

Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

Latest in News

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative

All content © 2022 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401

Advertising Policy  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us  |  About Us  |  Help
Website powered by Foundation