Posted Feb. 29, 2008 – While presidential candidates are focusing on whether the United States should force despotic countries like Cuba or the Sudan to improve their records on human rights and imprisonment before our leaders meet with theirs, a new report suggests that it’s the U.S. record that needs the most improvement.
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In fact, when it comes to locking up its citizens for non-violent offenses, the United States is the world’s No. 1 jailer, according to a newly released survey by the Pew Center on the States, showing that for the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in every 100 American adults are in jail or prison. And when it comes to Black-American men between 20 and 34 years old, a shocking one in nine is incarcerated, Pew says. That’s compared to the overall lock-up rate of one in 30 for American men.
The racial chasm between Black and White women behind bars is also startling, the study shows. While one in 355 White women between 35 and 39 years old is behind bars, one in 100 Black women in that age group is locked up. "For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling," the report said.
As of Jan. 1, an unbelievable chunk of America ’s 230 million adults were in local jails or in state and federal prisons – 2,319,258 – which is one in 99.1 Americans.
And, equally shocking is the fact that the United States spent more than $49 billion to lock them up last year, an $11 billion hike over the past two decades, Pew says. This makes the cost of incarceration six times greater than what we spend to send Americans to college, the report says.
What’s worse is the fact that most of those serving time never perpetrated a violent crime.
Take the state of Maryland , for example. According to the Pew report, there are 23,342 people locked up in its prisons and jails. "…[R]oughly 70 percent of them are in prison for drug or drug-related offenses," Del. Curtis Anderson, a Baltimore Democratic member of the Maryland Legislature, told The Baltimore Sun. "And of that 70 percent, 92 percent are African-American.
"We've been pounding the governor and chairmen of committees with this information for almost five years," he said. “The fact that somebody else is saying it and it's a national report might help us wake them up to this issue.
"We have the highest incarceration rate of every country in the world, including backward and despotic countries like Cuba ," he continued. "The problem is that the folks we put in jail aren't violent offenders or dangerous to society, but mainly low-level drug users or drug dealers. The way we should be dealing with these people is to put them into treatment, which is far less expensive and much more effective."
China , whose population far exceeds that of the United States , has only 1.5 million people in prison, and with 750 inmates per 100,000 people, we are way ahead of Russia , which jails 628 per 100,000 people, or any of the former Soviet bloc countries.
When it comes to executions, the United States is also among the world leaders, the international human rights groups Amnesty International reports. In 2006, the United States put 53 people to death, a total exceeded only by China , Iran , Pakistan , Iraq and Sudan .
During recent Democratic debates, Sen. Hillary Clinton has lambasted Sen. Barack Obama because he has said he would meet with enemies of the United States without demanding that they first improve their records on human rights. Obama contends that such meetings could lead to them improving conditions.