What is new to me about the above study is that it lists the incarceration rates for each state in the United States, and then puts these rates in a global context. While the U.S. incarceration rate is 5 times higher than most countries, some states’ incarceration rates are even higher.
Louisiana, for example, has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and several other southern states finish closely behind. While I am bothered by the extent to which we incarcerate our neighbors, should we really be surprised?
The website highlights a few reasons why we are so different from other countries. One reason, though, that is not explicitly mentioned, but that I would add, is our culture’s infatuation with the idea that we are fundamentally in charge of our destinies–the “American Dream.” We assume that if you try hard enough, you can have access to education, adequate healthcare, decent food, and job security. When this idea invades the minds of policy-makers and judges, then the many unmet needs of the vulnerable are overlooked because those writing our laws view the poor as choosing to be poor. Consequently, much like Victor Hugo’s Inspector Javert, we focus our attention on imprisoning people for breaking laws without thinking about whether the policies and rules in place are contributing to higher prison rates and increasing inequality.