Oklahoma has claimed the title of “the world’s prison capital,” reports the Prison Policy Initiative, surpassing Louisiana as the state with the highest incarceration rate in the country.
According to the report, Oklahoma now incarcerates 1,079 people per 100,000 population, or over 1 percent of the state population in 2016, according to the most recent figures available.
If this number sounds low, bear in mind that it is over 50 percent higher than the national incarceration rate, which stands at 698 incarcerated per 100,000, and that the U.S. itself already significantly outranks every other country on earth.
In “States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2018,” Executive Director Peter Wagner and Senior Policy Analyst Wendy Sawyer find that even so-called “progressive” states such as New York and Massachusetts rely significantly more on prisons and jails to respond to crime than do most nations.
Many of the countries with incarceration rates comparative to the least punitive states are governed by authoritarian regimes, such as Turkmenistan, Thailand, Rwanda, and Russia.
Even countries that experience violent crime at much higher rates than the U.S. utilize incarceration less. Although El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Brazil all have murder rates more than double that of the U.S., each has an incarceration rate significantly lower than the U.S., in some cases less than half.
The U.S. stacks up even worse compared to democracies with comparable crime rates, with an incarceration rate more than five times larger than that of the United Kingdom, which has the next highest incarceration rate among the founding NATO members.
Wagner and Sawyer say incremental shifts in policy will not be sufficient to bring the U.S. in line with other nations; only large scale change can allow the “land of the free” to live up to its name.
Elena Schwartz is a TCR news intern.