Chelan-Douglas Trends e-Newsletter

INCARCERATION RATES FOR EACH U.S. STATE - COMPARED TO OTHER COUNTRIES

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Crime statistics, by nature, can be a little fuzzy, since they are based on crimes that law enforcement know about. To "know" of a crime, the crime needs to receive an official response from law enforcement. In the minimum, law enforcement must acknowledge it having occurred to officially count in crime statistics.

There are crimes that are almost always reported, like motor vehicle theft and arson, as well as crimes like arson that the authorities will discover on their own as part of an overall public safety response to a hazardous situation. There are also crimes that while common, like petty theft out of people's yards or vehicle prowling, are not consistently reported to law enforcement.

One unfortunate and perhaps the extreme example are rapes. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates only 310 of every 1,000 rapes are reported. Unless law enforcement somehow learns of a rape on their own without it actually having been reported to them, these inevitably are crimes that will not be counted in any official crime statistics.

One criminal justice statistic that has zero or very little ambiguity associated with it is the number of people incarcerated because it is as simple as counting heads.

What is less often available is a breakdown of the incarceration rate by individual state, comparing them to incarceration rate of countries across the globe. But just such a breakdown has been calculated by the Prison Policy Initiative.

During 2018, there are approximately 698 incarcerated people in the U.S. per 100,000 residents. In many ways, especially when compared to more oppressive forms of government, like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, it can appear contradictory to the U.S. being heralded as one of the freest societies in the world.

More locally, during 2018, Washington State has had the 11th lowest incarceration among all states, at a rate of 480 per 100,000 residents, versus the U.S. rate of 698. For purposes of comparison, the incarceration rate per 100,000 residents of China was 118, Russia was 413, Saudi Arabia was 197, and Iran was 284.

To be fair, most people who commit crimes are not forced to do so, aside from perhaps a few people who might have stolen things like food or water to survive. People have the freedom to commit crimes or not to, and both decisions have their own unique set of consequences. But it is difficult not to see the unfortunate irony in the U.S. having the highest incarcerated population in the world. Perhaps the old song speaks to the truth when it claimed "Living so free is a tragedy, when you can't be what you want to be."