The United States has the world's highest imprisonment rate on record, with more than 1 million people in prison or jail, a private group that favors alternative punishments reported Friday.
"Despite all the claims, the same policies that have helped make us a world leader in incarceration have clearly failed to make us a safer nation," said Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, who wrote the report.For every 100,000 U.S. residents, 426 are behind bars awaiting trial or serving time for crimes committed, the report said. That is the highest incarceration rate in the world, it said, ahead of South Africa's rate of 333 people imprisoned per 100,000 residents and the Soviet Union's rate of 268 per 100,000.
Incarceration rates in Europe generally range from 35 to 120 per 100,000 residents, and for Asian countries the rates range from 21 to 140 per 100,000, the report said.
For black American males, the rate is 3,109 per 100,000, compared to South Africa's 729 per 100,000.
The U.S. incarceration rate has more than doubled over the past decade, the report said.
A higher crime rate is one reason for the U.S. lead in imprisonment, it said. The nation's murder rate is at least seven times higher than in most European countries. There were six times as many robberies and three times as many rapes in the United States as in West Germany prior to unification with East Germany.
But the report also blamed "harsher criminal justice policies" during the 1980s, when more states adopted mandatory minimum sentences, tightened parole eligibility criteria, and otherwise relied more on imprisonment than alternatives.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, said the report "illustrates the long-term effect of the draconian criminal justice policies the United States has been implementing over the past decade, and is indicative of policies that have failed our people."