"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Jail vs. Execution

The Bernie Sanders crowd is sending around a meme that looks like this:


While it is true that we incarcerate more people than China (2.2 million vs. 1.7 million) while having only one-fourth China's population, the meme fails to account for executions. Let's compare the execution rate for all the countries in the world that still perform executions (three columns on the right) versus the incarceration rate for all the countries in the world that still perform executions (two columns on the left). Both data sets are sorted highest to lowest:

CountryTotal executed(Min) Per MillionJail rateCountry
(2014)[4]People (2014)(inmates per 100,000 pop)
 Equatorial Guinea911.567???? Somalia
 Iran289+3.707???? Palestine
 Saudi Arabia90+2.925698 United States
 North Korea50+2.079600 North Korea
 Iraq61+1.701306 Belarus
 Jordan111.665290 Iran
 Somalia14+1.309269 Taiwan
 Yemen22+0.881229 United Arab Emirates
 China1,000+0.7220 Singapore
 Sudan23+0.593164 China
 Palestine2+0.44161 Saudi Arabia
 Singapore20.366161 Malaysia
 Belarus3+0.317154 Vietnam
 Taiwan50.213150 Jordan
 Afghanistan60.192133 Iraq
 Egypt15+0.173132 Equatorial Guinea
 United States350.1176 Egypt
 United Arab Emirates10.10674 Afghanistan
 Malaysia2+0.06653 Yemen
 Pakistan70.03850 Sudan
 Vietnam3+0.03349 Japan
 Japan30.02443 Pakistan

As can quickly be seen, Equitorial Guinea has the highest execution rate, at 11.567 per million, while the US has the highest incarceration rate, at 698 per 100,000.

But, in terms of execution rates, the US is at a paltry 0.11 persons executed per million, while the Chinese execute seven times as many at 0.7 per million. 

Only Japan and Pakistan have both low incarceration and low execution rates. Most of the remaining countries balance being high on one list with being low on the other list. Equitorial Guinea, for example, has a very high execution rate, but a relatively low incarceration rate. 

So, we could reduce the incarceration rate the same way China does - we could execute many of our criminals. I'm not at all a fan of capital punishment, and the solution seems ridiculous to me. Worse, I somehow suspect that solution will not satisfy Bernie supporters.

If Bernie really wanted to make the United States look bad, he should compare our incarceration and execution rates to that of Pakistan. Pakistan - perceived by most Americans as a backwater, violent Muslim nation - is low on both lists. On the other hand, we don't have Pakistan's mob violence or murder rate. Pakistan's murder rate, for instance, is 7.7 per 100,000, while America's is only 3.3 per 100,000. If we cut out the 6% of  the US population that commit half the murders in America, America's murder rate would be around 1.6, very low indeed.

But, that having been said, the incarceration rate is something to be concerned about. If America is the land of justice, that is, if most American prisoners really belong in prison, then Americans really aren't very nice people. On the other hand, if Americans really are essentially nice people, then we have a serious problem with our justice system. If nothing else, we should contemplate the fact that, when it comes to capital punishment, we are on a rather short list of nations, and most of the other nations on that list are not very nice.

Bernie's meme may be somewhat misleading, but refuting it is not as pleasant as one would hope.

1 comment:

Tim Kowal said...

If America is the land of justice, that is, if most American prisoners really belong in prison, then Americans really aren't very nice people. On the other hand, if Americans really are essentially nice people, then we have a serious problem with our justice system.

I'm not clear what you mean by this. If prisoners are locked up justly, then that cannot reflect poorly on Americans, other than to suggest they sure are producing a lot of criminals, which is certainly a valid line of inquiry.