Why does America love a jail?

Prison bars casting a shadow
Send that boy to jail! (Photo by Uriel Soberanes)

‘Lock her up, lock her up, lock her up!’

Remember the Trump rally chant? Well, Hillary Clinton isn’t the only American they want in jail. Incarceration is a top US pastime. Why?


The figures are genuinely amazing. 2.3 million people – the equivalent of the entire population of Botswana. America’s prison population is larger than any other country in real terms and per capita.

That’s ANY OTHER COUNTRY. Not just where you live, which is probably the UK (4.5 times lower) or maybe Europe or Australia, if my blog is really starting to fly. No, anywhere…

Let’s face it, there are some pretty populous and pretty repressive places out there. But none of them – not China, not Russia, not El Salvador, not Turkmenistan – can touch The Land of the Free. How the hell?


The US government is not to blame. No, the federal government locks up people at a lower rate than France or Italy. It’s the states and local districts.

Individual American states love jailing people. It hasn’t reduced violence or crime rates in America. It costs Americans a lot of money. I’ll leave the ‘Why is America so Violent?’ debate for another day, just soak up this stat:

If US states were independent countries, they would take the Top 20 spots in the league table of prison populations per capita globally.

A full deck. Slam dunk. You can’t get near that.


For more, read this article in The Economist