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Why Are We Imprisoning So Many People In The US?

With 0.7 percent of the American population in jail or prison many people may not realize just how high our country’s incarceration rates are, but when it is compared to the second-highest rate of incarceration in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 0.27 percent, or Canada’s much lower rate of 0.12 percent, it becomes a bit clearer. It is not just that there are 2.2 million people in prison or jail in the U.S., but Americans also face considerably more time in prison than offenders in many other countries.

Some people in Mercer County may point out that there are far more crimes committed in the U.S. than there are in these other countries, but there are some who think that fewer people in prison would actually cause less crime. For example, the U.S. had more than two times the number of intentional homicides than Canada and Australia.

The move to mass incarceration may have been triggered, in part, by a study by noted criminologist Robert Martinson. In it, he determined that trying to rehabilitate individuals was a waste of time. Instead, offenders should be locked up in order to prevent them from causing further harm. Combined with rising crime in the 1960s and 1970s, America went from having less than 200 people per 100,000 being incarcerated in the 1970s to more than 700 people per 100,000 in 2012.

So, even though 0.7 percent of Americans are incarcerated, New Jersey offenders should still be concerned that they may be sent to prison or jail if they are convicted. This is also why so many people turn to criminal defense lawyers when accused of a crime.

Source: The New York Times, “In the U.S., Punishment Comes Before the Crimes,” Eduardo Porter, April 29, 2014

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