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News of the Day ... in Perspective


U.S. leads the world in prison population

According to The Sentencing Project, the U.S. incarceration rate tops the world, at 715 inmates for every 100,000 U.S residents in 2003. This compares with a rate of 169 per 100,000 in Mexico; 116 in Canada; and 143 for England and Wales. Russia’s prison population once rivaled that of the United States but has dropped to 584 per 100,000 because of recent prisoner amnesties.

With total incarcerations near 2.1 million, one in 75 American men resides in prison or jail.

Longer, mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for drug-related crimes, account for much of the rise.

Not all prisoners are guilty. A Michigan law professor has uncovered trends that amount to “a frightening indictment of how the innocent are wrongly convicted” (Ariz Daily Star 4/26/04). The study, entitled “Exonerations in the United States,” estimates that thousands of innocents are behind bars.

In 328 exonerations, many based on DNA evidence, 15% of the prisoners had confessed. “In most of those cases it is apparent that the false confessions were coerced by the police,” the study found. The report does not include the numbers of innocent people who plead guilty in order to serve a shorter sentence or to be sentenced to the time already served.

The study also did not include the “mass exonerations” of people convicted by “police perjury and corruption.” These include a Los Angeles police scandal in which up to 150 prisoners were later found to be innocent, and a Texas case in which 35 people were convicted of drug charges on the word of one lying investigator.

Additional information:

AAPS Coalition Against Prosecutorial Abuse

“Law enforcement, or war?” AAPS News, June 2003

Twenty-five years for pleading “not guilty”: News of the Day Archive 3/9/04.

“False witness,” AAPS News, July 2004

News of the Day Archive