I just read that we Americans have 1 in 136 people locked up. Right now. Incredibly, about 1 in 37 Americans have served time. Among industrialized nations (and most others) we are the world's leading incarcerator. This is not a statistic to be proud of by any means and is an alarming indicator of an unhealthy society.
The Sentencing Project tried to answer the question "why?". This from a 2003 study comparing incarceration rates around the world:
The high rate of imprisonment in the United States can be explained by several
· A higher rate of violent crime than other industrialized nations.
· Harsher sentencing practices than in other nations, particularly for property and drug
· Sentencing policy changes over a period of three decades, particularly the shift
toward mandatory and determinate sentencing, restrictions on judicial discretion, and
a greater emphasis on imprisonment as a preferred sanction.
· Policy changes adopted as part of the “war on drugs,” leading to a vastly increased
use of the criminal justice system as a means of responding to drug problems.