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Here's the truth regarding complaints about the U.S.'s high incarceration rate

By Rachel Alexander
web posted November 20, 2023

Progressives have complained about high incarceration rates in the U.S. for years, but conservatives are finally being forced to address the problem as well, due to the left coming after them with politically motivated prosecutions. The U.S. has the sixth highest incarceration rate in the world, after El Salvador, Cuba, Rwanda, Turkmenistan and American Samoa. 

While superficially it sounds great to stop incarcerating drug users, the full picture is far more complicated. No one was ever sentenced to jail for marijuana; the main type of "drug user" that is incarcerated is a hard drugs dealer who also engaged in violence. CNN hysterically claimed in a 2016 article that "drug arrests actually increased about 10% from the previous year," but failed to point out that's because more drug dealers are being arrested due to the increase in hard drugs like fentanyl coming over the border as a result of the increasingly powerful cartels, not because your neighbor is getting arrested for smoking pot. "Drug abuse" violations sounds like it refers to use, but it includes selling and manufacturing.  

While Pew has fairly biased surveys, one fact that crept out of a 2022 report was that between 2009 and 2019, "[t]he numbers of people admitted to and held in state prisons for drug offenses both fell by about a third, accounting for 61% of the overall reduction in prison populations and 38% of the total decline in admissions." That same report claimed that arrests for drug possession remained almost the same during that time period, but didn't bother to include any statistics on actual incarceration — because so many who are arrested for mere possession are released quickly after arrest.

What people don't understand is that due to our porous southern border and huge population, we have one of the biggest influxes of hard drugs coming into the country, and violent crime goes hand in hand with drug dealing. The left likes to pretend that the U.S.'s high crime rate is due to guns, while ignoring the elephant in the room and pretending we're imprisoning mere drug users. 

El Salvador is considered the most violent country in the world, and its gang members are pouring over our borders unchecked by Democratic officials in border states and Democrats running the country. Why are we blaming high rates of crime on sentencing and guns, when it's the open border policy welcoming the worst criminals in the world here?

According to DOJ statistics, the U.S. prison population decreased by 25% since 2011, but don't expect to read that in the MSM. The sentencing rate is down 29%. Although blacks have the highest incarceration rate, the percentage of blacks in prison decreased the most among ethnic groups, 40%. 

While the incarceration rate has been decreasing, violent crime has been increasing. Philadelphia saw an all-time high of murders in 2021, with 562 murder victims. That is an increase of 12% over 2020 when President Donald Trump was in office. And at least 10 other major cities saw recent historic levels in murders. The Washington Post pointed to the increase occurring after the death of George Floyd, tacitly admitting that the activists who riled people up over the incident stirred them into committing violence. There is a correlation in violent crime increasing close to the time Joe Biden took office with a significant decrease in incarceration.    

At the same time, incarceration rates in several other countries are increasing, according to a 2021 report. The prison population in Europe (excluding Russia) increased by 5% since 2000. Excluding the U.S., in the rest of the Americas the total prison population has increased 138%.

A big part of the reason why the U.S. has higher incarceration rates is because violent crimes carry higher penalties here. In the UK, murderers rarely serve a full life term in prison. Many serve fewer than 10 years, and most serve only 10 to 18 years. In contrast, in the U.S., the median time served for murder is 17 years. You don't hear the MSM bringing that disparity up. 

Do we want murderers to serve fewer years in prison, especially considering how high their recidivism rate is? A recent DOJ study found that 10 years after release, 82% of state prisoners had been arrested again — an average of nearly seven arrests each.  

One of the reasons the U.S. has such a high incarceration rate is because we stopped hospitalizing much of the mentally ill and drug addicts in the 1960s. The ACLU led successful litigation to stop this practice, so now those troubled people are out on the streets committing crimes. But no one likes to talk about that. 

The U.S. has higher rates of mental illness than other developed countries, but lower treatment rates, according to the World Health Organization. Estimates state that over a quarter, 26%, of U.S. adults have a mental illness, about twice the world's average. According to Human Rights Watch, 60 countries institutionalize their mentally ill, or family members lock them up at home. Denmark, for example, has come under criticism for sharply increasing the number of those institutionalized between 1990 and now. There were over 3,500 institutionalized in 1990, which increased to about 8,500 in 2020. 

Banning guns doesn't seem to have helped the murder rate in other countries. In England and Wales, the most prevalent method of murdering people is with a knife or other sharp object. Shooting makes up only 4% of murders.  

The dilemma is whether to continue relaxing sentencing laws in the hopes that it will provide some relief for conservatives wrongly targeted by the left. Unfortunately, laws against violent drug deals don't overlap very well with amorphous, broad catchall laws used to target conservatives, like RICO and insurrection statutes. Society is going so downhill as progressives take over and dominate so many areas, including the justice system, that it is probably naive to hope there is some correlation that can benefit conservatives. ESR

Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. She has been published in the American Spectator,, Fox News, NewsMax, Accuracy in Media, The Americano, ParcBench, Enter Stage Right and other publications.


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