NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 19, 2008

Does the United States really lock up more people per capita than China?  Maybe not.  Press coverage of a recent Pew Center on the States report on the U.S. Incarceration rate highlighted the unfavorable U.S.-China comparison.  But China's totalitarian-cum-authoritarian government does not have a reputation for candor on touchy subjects, so its official prisoner figures may not be completely reliable, says Reason magazine.

Still, it's clear that the United States, where more than one in 100 adults is behind bars, has a much higher incarceration rate than any other democracy:

  • More than twice the rates in Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia.
  • More than five times the rates in Spain, Scotland and the Netherlands.
  • And more than 10 times the rates in Denmark, Italy and Finland.

The difference is largely due to mandatory minimum sentences and the war on drugs, which accounts for a half a million of the 2.3 million Americans under lock and key, says Reason.

Source: Jacob Sullum, "Incarceration Nation," Reason, June 2008; and "One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008," Pew Center on the States, February 2008.

For Pew study:


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