[Marxism] Prison statistics and empirical ethics

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Wed Feb 4 16:52:11 MST 2004

Actually,  the most recent figures suggest more than 9 million people (about
0.14% of the world population) are held in corrective institutions
throughout the world, mostly as pre-trial detainees (remand prisoners) or
having been convicted or sentenced. In the last five years, the prison
population increased by one million prisoners. Assuming (as I previously
estimated) 200 million crime victim reports a year in the whole world, then
approximately one in 25 crimes reported to the authorities results in
imprisonment. The world average rate of reported crime is around 3,137 per
100,000. In urban areas however it's much higher, for example in Holland
it's about 9,787 per 100,000. Australia, often said to be an outgrowth of a
convict colony, has a crime rate of 115 per 100,000.

Half the world's prisoners are in the USA (2.03 million), Russia (0.86
million) or China (1.51 million plus pre-trial detainees and prisoners in
administrative detention). The USA has the highest imprisonment rate at 701
per 100,000, followed by Russia (606), Kazakhstan and the Virgin Islands
(both 522), the Cayman islands (501), Belize (459), Bermuda (447), Surinam
(437), the Dominican republic(420) and the Ukraine (415). The lowest
imprisonment rates seem to be in India, and in the Faeroe islands owned by

See further: http://www.aic.gov.au/stats/international/wpl.html

In 1998, the Netherlands were annoyed when US drug czar General Barry
McCaffrey claimed that the Netherlands has much higher rates of murder and
other crime than the United States. He claimed the United States had 8.22
murders per 100,000 people in 1995 compared with 17.58 in the Netherlands
and that overall per capita crime rates in the United States were 5,278 per
100,000 compared with 7,928 in the Netherlands. The Dutch government's
Central Planning Bureau said however the Dutch murder rate was 1.8 per
100,000 people in 1996, up from 1.5 at the start of the decade. The Dutch
say the US rate is 9.3 per 100,000. McCaffrey's figures were incorrect. "He
is adding in attempted murders," a Dutch planning bureau spokesman said at
the time. In Holland, violent crimes at the moment are 7% of total crime
victim reports, and 17.3% of reported crimes are solved.

According to US Justice Department statistics for 2002, the incidence of
robbery dropped 19% from 2001 to 2002 and is down 60% from 1993, men are
more likely than women to be victims of crime, as are blacks and those under
age 24. Women are most often victimized by someone they know, while men are
more often victimized by a stranger. There was a 74% reduction in murders of
black men from 1976 to 1998. Only eight percent of the 6.3 million violent
crimes of rape and sexual assault, robbery, and assault involved a firearm.

All the same, the number of prisoners in the US just keeps rising. All you
can really conclude is that Americans love to meet out punishment, even
although behavioural and criminological research shows that punishment is a
strategy that is less likely to cause behavioural change than other
strategies. The question then is what the motive for punishment really is -
does it, perhaps, seek to prevent real behavioural changes actually
occurring ?


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