Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Case for Government Intervention

The United States has a staggering rate of incarceration - 686 prisoners per 100,000 population in 2001 (1.9 million prisoners).

India and China, each with three times the population of the US, had both lower rates and lower absolute number of prisoners. India had 281K prisoners, a rate of 28 per 100,000 in 1999. China had 1.4 million prisoners, a rate of 111 per 100,000 people.

Among OECD countries, Japan was at 48 per 100,000; England was at 139 per 100,000, Germany was at 96 per 100,000 and France was at 85 per 100,000 in the same period.

(The source of the data above is this UK Home Ministry document).

Of course, no other country is comparable to the US directly. So we may debate endlessly on the causes of this phenomenon.

Assuming a $20K per year cost of maintaining a prisoner in the US, halving the incarceration rate would save $20 billion a year, and still keep the US with its high rate of imprisonment. Of course, we want this savings to be because no crimes were committed. Then the savings would be much higher in reality, because we would have a productive person in the outside world, and more important, fewer victims of crime.

The conservative would argue that this result in the US is because of individual choices. Alas it is not one's choice of the formative environment that one lives in during one's childhood years. There is no argument that one of government's legitimate purposes is to fight crime. But some (much frowned upon) social engineering might help with this goal.


CapitalistImperialistPig said...

My guess - mostly drug related.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

According to this 55% of federal prisoners. If you add drug related (e.g., stealing to support a habit), it's probably much more. Long sentences, especially for blacks and hispanics, are also a factor.

Arun said...

Do other countries really have a much lower drug-related crime rate?