prison


I’ve been enjoying how incarceration rates, politics, and alternatives are dominating the news today. I don’t follow this conversation closely so it’s been good to see some numbers and hear the different perspectives.

When I first started listening, last night, I heard the numbers presented as totals on CNN, like this list from the International Centre for Prison Studies:

1 United States of America 2,239,751
2 China 1,640,000
3 Russian Federation 686,200

That probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. But, I thought, the real question is how dangerous do we think we are compared to other countries. Or, perhaps, how evil do we think we are…

So I looked up the incarceration rates per capita, which, to be fair to the media, is how almost everyone is displaying the data. Here are the same countries (Plus Canada. My wife is Canadian so I like to make comparisons between the US and Canada.) picked out of a chart on Wikipedia:

Rank Country (or dependent territory) Prisoners per
100,000
population
1  United States 716
8  Russia 484
124  China 121 or 170[2]
133  Canada 114

Apparently, here in the land of the free, we consider each other somewhere between 4 and 6 times as dangerous as they do in that repressive regime, China. And well over 6 times as dangerous as Canadians consider themselves. What do you think, Canadians? Are you 1/6 as dangerous as we are?

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I was learning about and being shocked by the prevalence of rape of women in college for my crisis line training when an essay by Eli Lehrer caught my eye, “Ending Prison Rape.” It’s about the apparent controversy and reluctance to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. I looked into the numbers a bit, and it looks like there is a good chance that there are as many rapes of men in prison as of free women in the US.

(Here are some Bureau of Justice Statistics links, if you want to look into it: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1743, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=840, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/corrections/institutional/prison-rape/welcome.htm)

No one deserves to be raped. Why do we have this weird double standard? Not even the most outrageous comedian would joke about women being raped, but it’s a very common joke about prisoners. Hilarious! It’s like that’s just part of the deal–part of your punishment. If you break the law, you get raped. You gave up your right to not get raped when you did such-and-such.

Most of these men will be getting out, someday. I know very few people really think that there is any rehabilitation going on in prisons, but getting raped is the opposite of rehabilitation. Does anyone seriously think a man can be raped into being a good citizen? That they will treat others better for having been raped? The evidence on trauma does not support this view. Or perhaps we think it’s a way of keeping people from breaking the law. Better not do that, they rape you in there… Lehrer’s essay says that some are saying this is a state’s rights issue, as if states should be able to decide which American men are suitable for raping. That would be fine with me, I suppose, if they unanimously decided that no rape was acceptable, period.

Still, for some perspective, the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s estimated 13% of men in prison raped gives better odds than the 20% of women raped in college. Perhaps there should be a College Rape Elimination Act of 2010.