Banner
    Land of the Free Has the Most Prisoners
    By Enrico Uva | April 18th 2011 03:48 PM | 48 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Enrico

    I majored in chemistry, worked briefly in the food industry and at Fisheries and Oceans. I then obtained a degree in education. Since then I have...

    View Enrico's Profile
    23.6 % of the world’s prison population is in United States prisons, but Americans only account for 4.45% of the world’s population. In 2010, according to the International Center for Prison Studies, the U.S had the world’s highest incarceration rate at 748 per 100 000. If The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems 2002 data collection is consistent with that of the above, in 8 years the already high rate has further increased by 4.6 %.

     Other industrial societies such as Canada and Australia have rates of only 116. Germany, Italy, and all Scandinavian countries all have rates of 100 or less. Are there more uncaught criminals elsewhere? Is the U.S. justice system too severe? Is it partially catering to the pressures of a prison industry? Or is there more crime? Total crimes cannot account for the high incarceration rate. The U.K, Finland, New Zealand and Denmark have between 6 to 20% more total crimes per capita than the United States, and Canada’s crime rate is only 6% lower than their northern neighbor’s.

    The Economist addressed the same issue last summer. Their analysis focused mostly on U.S. laws that are relatively too strict, especially with regard to drugs. By a remarkable coincidence, after becoming aware of the problem through the web site NationMaster.com, I turned on CBC, a Canadian public radio station, and Michael Enright was interviewing a University of Ottawa professor who was discussing the same topic. Some criminologists attribute the high incarceration rate to a poor investment in prevention. Tobacco is not illegal even though it contains the highly addictive drug nicotine. And yet it’s education and not a tough law that has curbed its use in North America. One may argue that the banning of smoking in most public places has also helped, but it might be reasonable to legalize most drugs while keeping a ban on their use in public. Meanwhile an investment in good trade schools for academically uninclined adolescents would not hurt. The present drug laws not only keep the prisons overstuffed but keep uncaught organized criminals and bribed officials very happy, not to mention all sorts of ensuing spinoff crimes.

    Comments

    Hank
    Prisoners have become big business in the US.   More prisoners means more prison guards needed and you can't fire union employees that work for the government so it's no surprise California loves to throw people in jail.  Due to the union contract which pays prison guards in California double what they make in the number two highest paying state, we sort of have to keep a lot of petty criminals rotating in and out of jail, or the money spent on prisons and prison guards looks even sillier on average.

    I agree that creating casual criminals due to petty drug laws (and we saw this before, with prohibition in the 1920s) is a bad precedent, because it not only makes good citizens casual criminals but makes actual criminals wealthy, and there are a lot of people who think the government should be legislating even more personal conduct.   Those are the ones who should be in jail.  :)
    Gerhard Adam
    Due to the union contract which pays prison guards in California double what they make in the number two highest paying state, we sort of have to keep a lot of petty criminals rotating in and out of jail, or the money spent on prisons and prison guards looks even sillier on average.
    That's actually not true.  Since my niece actually is a corrections officer, one of the problems is the hours worked and number of hours worked, so that when the state has no money, they can arbitrarily cut the individual's pay (even down to minimum wage).  This is precisely what has happened over the past year.  While much is made of such union contracts, the reality is the question of who is going to enforce a contract with the state when the state doesn't want to cooperate?

    I'm also not sure why you think that creating prisoners is big business.  If you eliminated half the prisoners tomorrow, it would do little or nothing to change the status of the prisons or guards themselves, since it would eliminate overcrowding.  The problem appears to be that we want to incarcerate more people while doing little or nothing to build the facilities to actually house them.

    In our society, we don't bother to think about whether prison is appropriate.  We just adopt a kind of "out of sight, out of mind" mentality where our primary motivation is retribution or payback instead of considering whether such incarceration is actually necessary.  This is easily seen when examining the attitudes of whether or not corporate CEO's should go to prison from illegal actions.  Many people argue that they should, despite there being no reason to believe these people are a threat to society and should be removed from it.  Instead, it's some petty idea of revenge.

    In my view, such people don't need to be imprisoned as much as they should be forced to give up their assets and make restitution (potentially for the rest of their lives).  They aren't a danger to society, but a prison sentence seems an unusual response.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    "I'm also not sure why you think that creating prisoners is big business."
    Are you joking? Not sure how it is in Oz, but in the US, building new prisons and selling technology to cope with overcrowding is big huge mega biz and not to be sneered at as a big player in keeping the war on drugs going.
    Gerhard Adam
    You're right, it was a dumb thing to say.

    My original statement was biased from the perspective of thinking in terms of state expenditures for supporting prisons and not simply the business and other growth aspects of it.

    You are correct, that it is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Not sure how it is in other states but California prison guards got what has commonly been regarded as the best labor contract in history.  Sure, the state can cut overtime but so what?   It's still a terrific living and it's constitutionally mandated.   In total expenditure for California, education is far and away the top with 40% of the budget constitutionally mandated to come before anything else, but corrections are 17% of the budget of what would be the 7th largest economy in the world if it were not part of the US.    Quite a lot.  Someone is getting that money and the union does not want to lose it, so there will continue to be too many prisoners.

    As the saying goes, convictions tend to expand and contract to match the capacity of prisons.  Or, the older version, in a town of bishops venial sins become cardinal ones.
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually my example is from California.

    In fact, if I understand correctly, Gov. Schwarzenegger imposed a contract about 5 years ago that removed most of the negotiating power of the union, which I believe is being revisited at this time.
    If approved by union members and lawmakers, the tentative agreement would end the furloughs for the 32,000 members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association that have cut their pay by roughly 15 percent.
    http://www.ccpoa.org/news/entry/california_prison_guards_union_reaches_contract/
    I'm not saying that they didn't have a good contract at their peak, nor am I claiming that they are underpaid when they are receiving their negotiated salaries.  However, I would also argue that, in many respects, their salaries are also commensurate with the risks they have to take. 

    Part of the problem is that we taxpayers want to the government to pass all these laws and incarcerate people for any number of silly offenses, but then we don't want to pay for those services.  There's no question that prison is also a big business (as I was correctly chastised for ignoring), but it also plays into the social drama we like to maintain in the U.S. regarding how "protected" we should all be by the government.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    It's picking nits but they aren't "without a contract" when they have existed under the terms of the old contract, which was already onerous.    And the new one is Brown, another Democrat, taking concessions that are half of what he is giving them - which means he gave them a better contract than they already had.    It's ridiculous porkbarrel funding for unions who always vote Democrat.    Same with the university system.   

    I certainly agree the law should be simpler.  I have no issue with 3 strikes but make them meaningful.
    Gerhard Adam
    It appears that the governor did impose furloughs and other reductions regardless of whatever contract was in existence.  I know pay cuts were imposed (although I understand they were temporary), but nevertheless the point is that contract or not, it definitely impacted a large number of people's livelihoods.

    It is become chic to criticize those that work for the government as if they are in some sort of a luxurious position, but it is unreasonable and unfair to blame people that don't partake in negotiations for the benefits/salaries that were negotiated.  It creates a climate of distrust and uncertainty when people are expected to perform their jobs responsibly, but then are blamed because of the salaries they get paid to perform them.

    If the people that have budgetary responsibilities are no better negotiators than to give everything away, then perhaps the onus belongs on the voters for giving them that kind of control.  It's wrong to keep blaming people that are simply doing a job.  Perhaps they were attracted to that job because it was well-paying, but that's still no reason to hold them responsible for a decision made by the legislature and the voters that put them in office.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    I checked into it a bit, and found out that the governor imposed a contract because there wasn't currently one in force.  This mandated a 15% reduction in pay (the furlough days).  At present it appears that they will be 9% of that pay back, while 6% is still being withheld.

    Given the job (especially in maximum security prisons), I'm not clear on why you would consider the contract "onerous".  They get paid a pretty good salary, but it is hardly extravagant.  Perhaps there's more involved regarding retirement benefits, etc. that aren't visible on the surface, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that people earn more than minimum wage for some of these jobs.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    They get double what the number two in the nation gets in pay and benefits.  Not double the average, double what a very distant second (MA) gets.  Knocking 15% off that is still onerous.   Come on, you are a guy who gripes as much as anyone about out of control pay for executives, it can't be that because a relative is in a fat union agreement this is suddenly okay.
    Gerhard Adam

    I'm not sure where you're getting your numbers from, but I pulled these from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  While it is a good salary, I'm not sure where onerous comes from.  I can easily think of dozens of jobs within government that probably command higher salaries and perform less work.

    I've put three tables below from the BLS, that compares Kindergarten teachers, Police officers, and Corrections officers.  As I said, I'm not clear on why you consider this such an outrageous wage.  BTW, I'm not trying to pick on Kindergarten teachers, but it just struck me as an interesting wage comparison between managing a room full of kids, versus a prison full of inmates.  

    Top paying States for this occupation (Kindergarten teachers): 

    California (Annual Mean Wage)  = $56,660

    http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252012.htm#st

    Top paying States for this occupation (Police Officers):

    California (Annual Mean Wage) = $78,690

    Top paying States for this occupation (Corrections Officer):
    http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos156.htm
    http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333012.htm#st

    California (Annual Mean Wage) = $66,720

    BTW, the second highest state is New Jersey @ $62,350, so I'm not sure where the MA number came from.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Prisoners are in cages, students are not.   But comparing wages to school teachers make no sense.   Our kids require a different level of both education and social skill than prisoners.   I compared compensation for corrections in prisons and you are clouding the issue discussing what other occupations make.    Using those simple statistics above, corrections costs in California would be negligible and there would be no discussion.  Unfortunately that is not the case and corrections is 40 percent of personnel spending.   $8 billion on corrections is a lot, $133 per inmate every day.    I can't get the BLS to do median compensation nationally but you can do the math with the gross employee numbers and the spending.

    Not sure how to fix that formatting except manually in html mode.  Sometimes tables put in a bunch of funky line breaks for no reason after preview.  It may be something to do with how the editor interprets it.
    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but I didn't intend to compare corrections officers to kindergarten teachers as anything except a curiosity (and certainly not as a political point).

    The only occupations I listed were corrections officers and police officers (except as indicated about teachers).  How is that clouding the issue?  I also don't understand why you linked to a proposal paper for outsourcing to private prisons. 

    If we ignore my attempt at flippancy (including the kindergarten teachers), then it's still hard to see how California salaries are so far out of line from other states.  It appears that the issue may be how many Corrections Officers are employed, but salary seems to be an irrelevant point.  In that respect, I would agree (at least without more information), since the tables seem to indicate that California employs almost 25% more CO's than even New York.

    If we take the average salaries and employees it comes to about $3 billion.  So, it would seem that a big question should be where the other $5 billion in your statement comes from (or where its going).
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    Thank you for a very important article. First step is done - pointing out that the US is the country of the incarcerated is good, mentioning some of the many serious repercussions of the war on drugs is too, but now what? What can we actually positively do to help in a system where rational humans are decoupled from political influence? I think people with your skill set should be very interested in solutions of this type.
    UvaE
    I think people with your skill set should be very interested in solutions of this type.
    It would make a great script for a movie. A kind of Cheech and Chong, but not for dope heads--for those who are more interested in science.
    vongehr
    I am not flattered by the Cheech and Chong comparison, not at all. This is serious business, as you yourself seem to discover, if I interpret your new post today correctly. Complaining won't change the situation. As a science teacher, you have the skill set to start exactly the kind of perfectly legal citizen science projects I suggest, so your serious comments would be appreciated. You and me and others can start citizen science projects right here on Science2.0. If you think making a movie out of it could help the cause - I am in!
    rholley
    I’m a little puzzled about your original statistic, namely 23.6% of the world’s prison population is in the USA.  You then go on to compare other countries, all of which are either in Europe or largely settled by Europeans.

    I wonder, is it possible that some countries in Africa and Asia have been economical with the truth in regard to their reported statistics?

    I look in Wikipedia for The International Centre for Prison Studies, and this is what I find:
    The International Centre for Prison Studies launched its new academic partnership with the University of Essex at the House of Lords on 4 April 2011.In July 2010 the International Centre for Prison Studies incorporated and registered as a charity with the Charities Commission of England and Wales (Registered Charity No 1136787). Between 1997 and 2010 ICPS was based in King's College London. It was launched formally by Home Secretary Jack Straw in October 1997.
    In other words it is a British Quango.  I would not trust one of these further than my donkey can fart.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    The 23.6 % stat actually comes from The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2002) (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention) At the time the US had 2,019,234 prisoners (they now have more). They report a total of 8,570,051 prisoners for the world. That indeed works out to 23.6%. They also calculate a weighted average of 50 012 prisoners per country.
    Hank
    We've run into this problem often, especially with UN numbers.   They take everything at face value so a democracy's statistics, with accurate counts, are the same as some junta's in the third world.    The numbers are likely inaccurate and out of context - America has more prisoners because it executes a lot fewer than China or Somalia - but the overall point is valid; we need fewer people in prison for misdemeanors.
    vongehr
    Slow down there. The large number in the US is due to repeated petty "crimes" to do with illegal substances. It is totally untrue and an ugly bit of sheer propaganda that in China you get killed for drug use. In fact, marijuana is in the provinces where it grows wild effectively legal! There is a town in Yunan province that has the nickname Amsterdam of Asia! Why do you think that is?
    vongehr
    Here is the terrible police state of dictatorial China that kills all the weed smokers for you:

    "To my great surprise, marijuana was EVERYWHERE down there. I was told by the folks in the Tibetan medicine shops that pot has been used as medicine in Tibet, Yunnan and the whole region for thousands of years. The medicine shops had it under the counter for special customers. They said it was widespread and accepted until Mao. Even today, you see folks on the streets smoking their bongs and you see pot sold in the countryside markets. They smoke it, eat it and brew a tea. It's growing everywhere in the foothills and mountains."

    Free Country

    Bad China.
    UvaE
    Depending on the source, the number of annual executions in China ranges from 700 to 3400. If we accept the upper estimate, assuming that on average a prisoner would serve 40 years, and then subtract from that the number of U.S executions per year(about 50), it would put an extra 134 000 prisoners behind bars in China, a drop in the bucket compared to the 2 million+ prisoners in the U.S.
    Hank
    Most people are not accepting any number that comes out of China.   Again, your point about too many prisoners in the US is valid, but the notion that communism solves crime is in defiance of every country that has tried communism - we just never know the truth until it fails.  The USSR also had 'few' executions, until it turned out they had murdered twice as many of their own people as Hitler killed during World War 2.  There is no way to know how many prisoners there are in China, or how many are killed, while that is transparent in the US and Canada.

    England, Scotland and Wales are 1,2 and 3 in crime in the civilized world yet have far lower incarceration rates than the US - that just means they aren't putting any criminals in jail, which isn't a great alternative.
    Gerhard Adam
    Obviously we need to identify what we mean by "criminal".  It seems apparent that the only purpose of prison is to remove people that are considered a danger to society.  Any other reason for incarceration deserves to be scrutinized to determine why we think that's an appropriate response, regardless of the crime.

    As I mentioned earlier, it seems that in the U.S. we want to use prison as a revenge mechanism, or to simply "put them away", so that we can all swagger around about how tough we (as a society) are.  But in the end, we're wasting time and energy incarcerating people that are neither a risk and just too expensive to maintain in that fashion.

    We also need to seriously consider if we aren't actually creating more criminals in this fashion.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Sure, there has to be a balance.  In the UK all sorts of violent criminals are not in jail whereas in the US all sorts of non-violent ones are.  Neither is a good way.   But if an executive screws up a public company, people want to put him in jail just like they do someone with pot or something silly.
    Gerhard Adam
    In the UK all sorts of violent criminals are not in jail...
    You can't just lock up soccer fans ....:)
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    But if an executive screws up a public company...
    Well, it does depend on what you mean by "screws up".  Was it due to an error or incompetence, or was it due to criminal or even borderline criminal activities?

    In the former case, that's just the way it goes, but in the latter case I wouldn't have any problem in having them avoid jail time, if their assets were seized for restitution.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    It just means you have a subjective metric for what deserves jail time.   Yours won't be superior to anyone else so there has to be a fair one that says what is a jail sentence and what isn't.   You happen to think businesspeople should go to jail and many think drug dealers should.  It ends up with twice as many people going to jail and people saying jails are too crowded.
    Gerhard Adam
    You happen to think businesspeople should go to jail and many think drug dealers should.
    Actually I didn't say that.  I thought I was pretty clear that I felt prison was for dangers to society and not for retribution.
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    We also need to seriously consider if we aren't actually creating more criminals in this fashion.
    It reminds me of detention room in our school. It's the same characters who are in there, week in and week out. It may be a deterrent for those who avoid the room, but it clearly does not prevent the punished from modifying their behaviour. Crime is a lifestyle generally chosen by those who do not recognize better alternatives. For some it's probably a combination of low conscience and social factors. But an ounce of prevention...
    Gerhard Adam
    Crime is a lifestyle generally chosen by those who do not recognize better alternatives.
    ... or for those for whom alternatives have been eliminated because of petty revenge.  Push someone hard enough and be unfair enough and eventually they will become a criminal even if they didn't start out that way.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    "the notion that communism solves crime"
    Where did Enrico say anything like this and what has it got to do with today's China? Stalin murdering intellectuals and jews and everybody else - comparable to China today? Are you completely out of your mind? China is huge and has many problems, but your "China" is a construct that exists only in your imagination. People in the US have a high probability to go to jail and be affected by violent crime - almost everybody knows somebody incarcerated, mugged at gun point, ... people are afraid to leave the house alone. Here in China, such is so seldom compared to the vast number of people, it is a non-issue.
    Why is it so difficult to accept that the US has some really deep problems that are unique to the US without immediately coming up with horror fear stories about that we are better glad not to be in some fantasy China?
    Hank
    I said the same things about US prisoners.   You seem to think because you live there the Chinese government is handing you secret knowledge about how many prisoners and executions there really are.  One of us does not know what a dictatorship is.
    vongehr
    Hank, think about it, OK, I do not need secret or official information if I life 11 years in the US and now for more than 4 years already in China. I meet people, I talk to them, they tell me their concerns, like in the US about crime and jail and drugs and all this crap. What are you saying? That all the people here are lying to me; that they are all in on a big show whenever a foreigner asks about family or whether they feel safe to go out of the house? If the problem with incarceration were anywhere near to as severe here as it is in the US, there would be no way that I did not by now would have come across traces of it. My wife does not know anybody who knows anybody who went to jail, nor do my friends. She knows one who committed suicide, and that is the worst. And if I suggest that a young woman better not go out in the dark, people look at me like I am mentally disturbed. And this goes for here in Jiangsu, this holds for down in Guangxi, this holds anywhere I went. Neither is there fear of rogue cops, like there is in LA. People argue with policemen like you would never dare in the US - they would immediately arrest or shoot you. Stop believing the damn propaganda Hank.
    HedgehogFive
    Human Sascha,

    I remember, decades ago, a very motivated Arabian going on about how wicked the Americans had been in the 1930s, going back on previous treaties with Japan.

    No mention of what the Japanese were doing in China at the time.

    One question, if I may.  Since it appears that you were born in the early 1980s, was that in the Bundesrepublik or the DDR?
    vongehr
    My birthday or place has absolutely nothing to do with the great tragedy of there being an amazing number of innocent people in US jails and prisons, nor has it anything to do with that China does not have nearly as much violent crime or prisons or problems with their many ethnic groups. In the US, a Hispanic is always a Hispanic, while in China, a Miao or Zhuang and a Han together are Miss Liang and Miss Wang, and ethnicity isn't an issue at all, although Miss Liang is obviously half the size of Miss Wang. It is because of less religiousness maybe, because of Asian culture, because of better schools than in the bible thumping US, I honestly do not know, but it is not because I was born in the early seventies.
    HedgehogFive
    However your birthplace may have something to do with how you acquired the antipathy you show towards the USA.
    vongehr
    Oh - sure - my birthplace determines my views about the US more than living and working in the US for 11 years. If you think so, that may probably also be applicable to certain persons, say Hank, just as an example for some random name often encountered in the US, and their views on China, especially given how long those people on average have lived and worked in China. Maybe you want to think this all through a little more?
    rholley
    Erinaci,

    It seems that Sascha does not want to reply to that last question.

    I heard, on the grapevine, that one thing that the Ossis missed after reunification was the ready availablity of 白兔糖 (pictured left), as this was previously plentiful in the East as a Friendly Socialist Product.

    However, as Sascha has been resident in China for some years, any meaningful result from a pupil dilation test when presented with a packet would not be feasible.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    It's far-fetched to draw parallels between Stalin's USSR and present-day China. The latter has a long way to go before attaining our standards for individual rights, free speech and clean air, but millions are not disappearing somewhere in the Himalayas
    vongehr
    The "parallel" is absolutely ridiculous given the top leadership (humble scientists who decide in consensus) and the clearly great efforts to combat corruption and getting progress to any minority in the furthest corner of the vast country. Given the huge problems they face, given the more than 50 different ethnicities, I have nothing but respect for people like Hu Jintao. That guy is a wise leader who studied science and Buddhism, not a religious double-faced pussy like the usual US president.
    Executions in China are often taking out corrupt business men. This scares a culture of corrupt business men that uses executions to get rid of brown and black people.
    rholley
    Perhaps the reason that the USA has more prisoners per head than many Old World countries is that the American state is less draconian.

    After all, this chap had a way of reducing the prison population of Wallachia effectively to zero.




    Death by PowerPoint?

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam
    It seems to me that there are some very strange political notions in these discussions and a fair amount of spinning going on to make one thing look better than another.

    In the first place, all governments are dictatorial whether they be formed by committee or by individuals.  Some may be more benevolent than others, but none of them tolerate serious dissent very well and they go through cycles in how they behave towards their citizenry. 

    The United States has executions but hides behind their legal status despite evidence that many on death-row may be innocent.  The United States has operated in the dark areas of the law with respect to terrorism and its camp in Guantanamo using the argument that terrorists are not entitled to rights or protections (despite never having legally established that these people were actually terrorists).  The average citizen of the United States implicitly understands that if they come under the scrutiny of law enforcement, it will not likely end well for them unless they have money for good attorneys.  In effect, we view "rights" as something which can only be assured by an individual's economic strength through attorneys.  If you have no money your rights are less likely to be assured than someone that does have money. 

    Most people in the United States also implicitly understand that the quickest way to trouble is to insist on your rights when facing law enforcement or government bureaucracies.

    Even seemly obvious "rights" such as free speech are uniquely qualified so that they can be easily superceded by court orders, conditions of employment, and even sanctions (as witnessed by individuals fired from their jobs for exercising it).

    This doesn't make the United States a bad place, but let's stop pretending that it's Utopia.  Despite some of the prevailing mythology in the U.S., many other countries also recognize people's rights and most countries let people live however they choose (with some notable exceptions).  The United States certainly provides a better climate for opportunities to be exploited by individuals and consequently it is often presumed that the reduction of some of those cultural barriers is synonymous with freedom.

    In my view, the biggest singular problem in the United States is the rhetoric that suggests that it is beyond questioning and that to do so, one must either "hate America" or that they should leave and go somewhere else.  Both of these attitudes demonstrate just how intolerant people can be regarding one's "rights".

    The primary point isn't that the United States is necessarily better or worse than many other countries, but that also doesn't mean that every other country in the world is automatically a society in which its citizens live in fear and terror.  Part of the reason in criticizing the United States is that it has set a standard for itself that it often fails to live up to and consequently it indirectly creates the basis for such criticism. 

    There's little question that all of our respective societies can be improved, just as there's little question that some citizens of various countries will live very well and happily, while others will suffer.  This appears to be a universal condition from which no country or government is exempt. 

    While the United States likes to view itself as a beacon for "freedom" in a dark world, the reality is far less idealistic, since the reference is invariably to economic freedom and has little to do with human rights.  While I certainly wouldn't want to trivialize that aspect of U.S. society nor its benefits, let's also not be myopic in confusing the ideals we claim versus those we actually live by.
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    'Very eloquently expressed. A pleasure to read, and I agree with just about every word!
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, thank you very much.
    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley
    A very level-headed comment, Gerhard.  Some things are similar, some different, in GB.
    The average citizen of the United States implicitly understands that if they come under the scrutiny of law enforcement, it will not likely end well for them unless they have money for good attorneys.  
    In the UK, there is Legal Aid, so those least well-off can manage.  For the very well-off, same as in the USA.  But if you’re in between, and you don’t qualify for Legal Aid, hard cheese.
    Most people in the United States also implicitly understand that the quickest way to trouble is to insist on your rights when facing law enforcement or government bureaucracies.
    In the UK, if you’re a political troublemaker, it seems all sorts of well-intentioned people will back you up.  But if you’re an ordinary householder, the situation is different.

    I remember a case where totally unreasonable planning permission was granted to allow a multi-storey development (a car park, possibly) right up next to someone’s property.  He started to prepare a legal case against it, but received a phone call late in the evening from someone at the council saying “you’d better drop it, we can fight you all the way.”  Public bodies have unlimited access to public funds.

    It’s even worse when it comes to the social services, especially what is called “family protection”.  A couple had their five-year old daughter taken away for adoption after being investigated by the RSPCA over the way they kept their dogs.  They lost a second child on the way because of the heavy-handed behaviour of the police.  Because their daughter has been adopted, they have lost all means of tracing her.

    On the other hand, when the parents, or mother and stepfather, know how the play the system, the social services seem as limp as a wet rag.  There are cases of toddlers being killed in these situations.  If an ethnic minority is involved, then because of “cultural sensitivities”, the situation is even worse.
    In my view, the biggest singular problem in the United States is the rhetoric that suggests that it is beyond questioning and that to do so, one must either "hate America" or that they should leave and go somewhere else.  
    Since WW2, our “intelligentsia” have made it deeply unfashionable to be patriotic.
    While the United States likes to view itself as a beacon for "freedom" in a dark world, . . .
    Perhaps young Americans are taught the message “we are the goodies”.  That’s bad thinking in any context.  However, in Britain, the BBC seems to have got the idée fixe that “we are the baddies”.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    Sorry Sacha. I tried to edit a typo(breathe instead of breath) on your last comment about your disagrement with "better climate for opportunities" and it turned into my comment.
    UvaE
    Interesting link from Sascha in which the author argues that rape and assault have shifted to prisons--not so fair for those who were not incarcerated for violent crimes.

    Crime has not fallen in the United States—it’s been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. The statistics touting the country’s crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie—but as the single most shameful lie in American life.