America and Britain each have a higher prison population proportionally than any other country in the ‘civilized world’.
If you include non-citizen prisoners in Israel (that means Palestinian and other terrorists convicted, suspected, or otherwise), it too gets bumped up to the higher rankings. Of course, the crucial question is, ‘Does it work?’ Does prison in any measurable way stop or reduce crime or terror or, indeed, does it teach its occupants any lesson other than to get right out and do it again? Once upon a time the great reformers intended prison to be a place of correction. There is little correction that goes on nowadays. Then they thought it should be a penitentiary. But there are very few penitents in prisons.
Statistics, always suspect I agree, indicate that prison works. Certainly in America crime rates have declined as the prison population has risen and in Israel terror rates have been drastically reduced. But a recent article in the New York Review of Books (“The American Prison Nightmare”, by Jason DeParle, April 12th 2007), focused admittedly on the USA alone, suggests that there may not be any correlation.
The US prison population has risen from 380,000 in 1975 to 2.2 million today. At the same time homicide rates have fallen by 43%. It may be however that the decline in crime has other causes, to do with birth rates and increased funding for more professional policing and detection. But there is another issue, the creation of an underclass that is poor, uneducated, and unemployable. In addition they are disenfranchised because in many states in the USA, felons cannot vote. Israel happens to be one of the few democracies where felons can. I hate to think why! In some states the percentage of blacks who are debarred from voting is so high that one can speculate whether it affected the outcome of the past two presidential elections.
Of those imprisoned in the USA, 60% are for drug-related offences and they are overwhelmingly black. By...