I heard a statistic on the radio this morning that got my attention: If Louisiana were a country, it would have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Could this be true, I wondered?
A little web searching revealed many citations of Texas, our neighbor to the west, as having the highest incarceration rate.
If Texas were a country, it would have the highest incarceration rate in the world, easily surpassing the United States and Russia, the next two finishers, and seven times that of the next biggest prison system in China.
This is repeated again and again on about 30 different websites.
A little more poking reveals that the U.S. Department of Justice has published a report titled Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004, which contains the following passage:
The incarceration rate of State and Federal prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year was 486 per 100,000 U.S. residents on June 30, 2004, up from 482 per 100,000 on December 31, 2003. At midyear 2004, 12 States led by Louisiana (814 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 State residents), Texas (704), and Oklahoma (684), exceeded the national rate. Nine States, including Maine (149), Minnesota (169), and North Dakota (189) — had rates that were less than half of the national rate.
Pretty solid evidence that Louisiana’s incarceration rate exceeds that of Texas. As a friend of mine recently said, Louisiana is “first place in everything bad, and last place in everything good — or tied with Mississippi.”
I wonder why the Texas factoid is so widely cited. Could it be based on a different statistical measure?
Regardless of our exact place, it’s mighty sad that our incarceration rate is approaching nearly 1% of our total population. Whatever your perspective on crime and punishment, it’s pathetic. People should consider these facts before sounding off about how “free” we are, how Americans cherish “freedom,” and how we live in such a “free” country.