Prisons

Why does the United States imprison more people than other countries?

The United States has the biggest population of prisoners in the world, both in terms of the number incarcerated and as a percentage of the total population.

prisoner_population_rate_world_2012_map

Why the frontrunner position? It’s not because the United States has more crime than other countries. In general, Americans aren’t any more likely to become victims of crime than people in other countries.

Where America appears to distinguish itself is in the length of sentences for property crimes and drug crimes. One study found that sentences in the United States for burglary are about three times longer than sentences in England for the same crime.

The disparity is even bigger for drug cases. A first-time offender convicted of possessing a kilogram of heroin could get 4 months of prison in England. In America, the federal mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years.