For years now, there are statistics being promoted by those who believe the United States incarcerates more people per 100,000 than any other country in the world, and, consequently, the U.S. should reduce its prison population.
However, the statistics are wrong, as this story from the San Francisco Chronicle notes.
During his speech to the American Bar Association Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the following about the U.S. incarceration rate:
Even though this country comprises just 5 percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.
I wondered, if this factoid, which was repeated in newspapers and cable television repeatedly, is factual. So I did some checking around and the answer is: Not really.
The statistic comes from a report from the International Centre on Prison Studies. I emailed the group to ask if The Centre agreed with the statement that the U.S. comprises just 5 percent of the world’s population, but incarcerates almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. I had doubts because, as Politifact reported, the official list leaves out some 650,000 held in Chinese detention facilities. And:
The World Prison Population List includes totalitarian regimes and nations often on the world’s bad actors list such as Iran, Libya, Syria and Venezuela. But it does not include two Communist countries: Cuba and North Korea. So how many inmates do those countries have?
Amnesty International gave us a report it released in May 2011 on political prisoner camps in North Korea. It concluded there were an estimated 200,000 people being held in such camps, using satellite images and eyewitness accounts. That equates to 813 per 100,000, higher than the U.S.