America – Land of the Free ? Land of the Jailed.
It is common to criticize China for its cruel authoritarian system, but it is 6 times more likely for a US citizen to be in jail versus a chinese citizen.
The US has almost 4 million people on probation
The complicated and cumbersome US legal system means that seemingly innocuous behavior is criminalized. Prosecutors can indite anyone if they choose to do so. The common US citizen has to hope to be ignored and lucky enough not to draw unwanted legal attention. The US jails a lot more non-violent offenders, so the extra jailing is not protecting society. It is also causing overcrowding and the response has been not to jail some violent offenders or to release some violent offenders early.
There is a step in the process of being taken to restore common sense to our criminal sentencing laws. The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 authorizes federal courts to depart below a statutory mandatory minimum sentence based on using common sense judgement (like if we give five years instead of ten for someone who is not a risk to public safety).
The US now has bureaucratic cruelty with the overzealous and unfocused application of minimum sentencing guidelines. Congress has enacted more than 50 new crimes a year, an average of 500 new crimes per decade over the past three decades.
The Lack of Mens Rea in Many Federal Crimes. At the July 2009 hearings, Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, noted a growing concern about “the disappearance of the common law requirement of mens rea, or guilty mind,” which was intended to protect society from poorly crafted legislation and overzealous prosecutor.
Approximately 80,000 people are sentenced in federal courts each year. There are an estimated 4,500 federal criminal statutes and tens of thousands of regulations backed by criminal penalties, including incarceration.
There is also the criminalization of regulatory violations.
Until the 1970s, about 100 per 100,000 Americans were in prison. Today 700 per 100,000 are. America has nearly 5 percent of the world’s population but almost 25 percent of its prisoners. The US has not gotten more dangerous since the 1970s.
About 330,000 are in prison for drugs offenses. There are many more interesting statistics around US prisons and probation.
Despite the example of OJ Simpson. US Prosecutors win 90% of the time
U.S. prosecutors win more than 90 percent of their cases, 97 percent of those without complete trials. British and Canadian prosecutors win significantly less, and for many offenses, the sentences in those nations are less severe.
Due Process and Banning Plea Bargains
Though extensive due process protections apply to the investigation of crimes, and to criminal trials, perhaps the most important part of the criminal process — the decision whether to charge a defendant, and with what — is almost entirely discretionary. Given the plethora of criminal laws and regulations in today’s society, this due process gap allows prosecutors to charge almost anyone they take a deep interest in.
Banning plea bargains would provide an understanding that every criminal charge filed would have to be either backed up in open court or ignominiously dropped. This would significantly reduce the incentive to overcharge. . . . The US criminal justice system, as presently practiced, is basically a plea-bargain system with actual trials of guilt or innocence a bit of showy froth floating on top.
Everyone probably is committing three felonies per day
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior.
American Jail Statistics
Many countries have near or higher foreign born population levels compared to the US. Only Russia comes close to the percent jailed by the US. The US is still higher than even Russia in percent jailed.
Brazil has white 53.7%, mulatto (mixed white and black) 38.5%, black 6.2%, other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 0.9%, unspecified 0.7% (2000). Brazil has about 260 in jail per 100,000 which is one third the US level.
Yes the incarceration rate of blacks and hispanics is several times higher than whites but the incarceration rate of white men (678 per 100,000) is still higher than the incarceration of people in Russia (615 per 100,000)
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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