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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Jail vs. Execution

The Bernie Sanders crowd is sending around a meme that looks like this:

While it is true that we incarcerate more people than China (2.2 million vs. 1.7 million) while having only one-fourth China's population, the meme fails to account for executions. Let's compare the execution rate for all the countries in the world that still perform executions (three columns on the right) versus the incarceration rate for all the countries in the world that still perform executions (two columns on the left). Both data sets are sorted highest to lowest:

Country Total executed (Min) Per Million Jail rate Country
(2014)[4] People (2014) (inmates per 100,000 pop)
 Equatorial Guinea 9 11.567 ????  Somalia
 Iran 289+ 3.707 ????  Palestine
 Saudi Arabia 90+ 2.925 698  United States
 North Korea 50+ 2.079 600  North Korea
 Iraq 61+ 1.701 306  Belarus
 Jordan 11 1.665 290  Iran
 Somalia 14+ 1.309 269  Taiwan
 Yemen 22+ 0.881 229  United Arab Emirates
 China 1,000+ 0.7 220  Singapore
 Sudan 23+ 0.593 164  China
 Palestine 2+ 0.44 161  Saudi Arabia
 Singapore 2 0.366 161  Malaysia
 Belarus 3+ 0.317 154  Vietnam
 Taiwan 5 0.213 150  Jordan
 Afghanistan 6 0.192 133  Iraq
 Egypt 15+ 0.173 132  Equatorial Guinea
 United States 35 0.11 76  Egypt
 United Arab Emirates 1 0.106 74  Afghanistan
 Malaysia 2+ 0.066 53  Yemen
 Pakistan 7 0.038 50  Sudan
 Vietnam 3+ 0.033 49  Japan
 Japan 3 0.024 43  Pakistan

As can quickly be seen, Equitorial Guinea has the highest execution rate, at 11.567 per million, while the US has the highest incarceration rate, at 698 per 100,000.

But, in terms of execution rates, the US is at a paltry 0.11 persons executed per million, while the Chinese execute seven times as many at 0.7 per million. 

Only Japan and Pakistan have both low incarceration and low execution rates. Most of the remaining countries balance being high on one list with being low on the other list. Equitorial Guinea, for example, has a very high execution rate, but a relatively low incarceration rate. 

So, we could reduce the incarceration rate the same way China does - we could execute many of our criminals. I'm not at all a fan of capital punishment, and the solution seems ridiculous to me. Worse, I somehow suspect that solution will not satisfy Bernie supporters.

If Bernie really wanted to make the United States look bad, he should compare our incarceration and execution rates to that of Pakistan. Pakistan - perceived by most Americans as a backwater, violent Muslim nation - is low on both lists. On the other hand, we don't have Pakistan's mob violence or murder rate. Pakistan's murder rate, for instance, is 7.7 per 100,000, while America's is only 3.3 per 100,000. If we cut out the 6% of  the US population that commit half the murders in America, America's murder rate would be around 1.6, very low indeed.

But, that having been said, the incarceration rate is something to be concerned about. If America is the land of justice, that is, if most American prisoners really belong in prison, then Americans really aren't very nice people. On the other hand, if Americans really are essentially nice people, then we have a serious problem with our justice system. If nothing else, we should contemplate the fact that, when it comes to capital punishment, we are on a rather short list of nations, and most of the other nations on that list are not very nice.

Bernie's meme may be somewhat misleading, but refuting it is not as pleasant as one would hope.

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