Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Compared To Italy, Say, Precisely How Wicked Is The United States?

Posted by Peter Quennell

Please click above for a chart we can all read.

Okay. According to this proportional comparison of prison populations, the US is about seven times as wicked as Italy.

We have often remarked that Italy’s crime rate is low, the three mafia families (Sicily, Calabria and Naples) are mostly fading, and the justice system is one of the most cautious - conviction rates are infuriatingly low for the suffering families of victims, but in a forgiving Catholic nation rates of incarceration are unlikely to jump any time soon.

The American incarceration rate in sharp contrast has for a decade led the rest of the world, and it increased every year for nearly 30 straight years from the arrival of President Reagan to the departure of President GW Bush. Its prison rate is ahead of Russia’s, with its mafias and corruption and poverty, and ahead of China’s, with its large population of political prisoners.

Finally, however, the American incarceration rate and execution rate are both now headed downward.

Factors that had been keeping incarceration rates high included the 1980s-1990s drug wars, the estimated 12-15 million illegals, the estimated several hundred million private guns, the law-and-order hard line of many politicians and the Supreme Court, the elections of many sheriffs and judges and district attorneys based mainly on a law-and-order hard line, the part-privatised for-profit prison system, and distinct racism (see graphs below) in who goes to prison and who doesn’t. 
Factors that are now pushing incarceration rates down include a major drop in all crime rates, the liberalization of US society as it gets richer, the pressure on government budgets, the easing of certain drug laws, the proofs from DNA that police do not always get the right perpetrator, Obama-administration investment in re-entry programs and more effective methods of parole and probation, and the continued push of humane people to radically change things for the better.

Executions were put on hold by the Supreme Court for some years. You can see from the last graph below that after that ended there was something of a surge in executions, but the numbers are sinking down again quite sharply (now at about 30 a year) and execution might be a thing of the past by 2020.

Wow! In matters of crime and punishment the United States is now starting to converge upon…  Italy!

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What’s up with Greenland?! Most of the other country ratings in the top chart make some intuitive sense.

Though crowded, India really is mostly very peaceful. In Spain youth unemployment is at 50 percent. In the UK it is much debated what is going on.

Africa is not especially safe with poverty and tribalism and now fundamentalism, but its justice systems are under-funded and stretched which is dissuading investment except by the Chinese. The nomadic desert areas dont see much crime.

A murder trial has just concluded in Kingston Ontario of an Afghani father and son and second wife. They were convicted of drowning the first wife and three children for the “honor” of the family. This trial highlighted one horrific crime trend which is particularly on the rise in Pakistan.

“The United Nations Population Fund says 5,000 women lose their lives in honour killings each year around the globe.” Last year nearly 1,000 Pakistani women died for such supposed honor.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/01/12 at 05:53 PM | #


There is something I clearly do not understand. If I use US population as 300 million (roughly say), then the top graph says that about 2.5 millions are in prison. That makes it just less than 1% of the population. 1% may be small on the pocket, but this is a large number actually.

The middle graph says there are about 5000 prisoners per 100,000 which comes to about 5% of the population. Or about 1 in 20: something must be seriously wrong with the data.

The third graph is interesting but the noise is large and the decrease since 2000 may be just “seasonal” and we can expect a negative execution rate by 2014 (if the trend continues). Only thing one can say confidently that the number of executions have been mostly decreasing since 2000.

Do you see any correlation with the economy? Poverty? Or, as you suggest, it is just politics?

If you make an offensive joke, an American will return promptly with a gun whereas an Italian will simply walk away. These are cultural traits that matters but cannot be put into numbers or statistics.

I hope I have not offended anyone!

hangover, n.: The wrath of grapes.

Posted by chami on 02/01/12 at 06:08 PM | #

Hi Chami. Joblessness is going up in the US while crime is going down. A puzzle, right? One theory here is that all the worst of the perps are already locked up so there won’t be any more spikes any time soon. Some really are in for life under the three-strikes law California etc adopted. 

I looked twice at that middle graph too. By one measure the US actually has around 6 million going through some incarceration related remedial treatment. That includes juveniles, military, those on probation, those on parole… I presumed it related to that. The black-white contrast is widely remarked.

On the execution rate there is a lot of campaigning. Only about 8 states still execute people and they sure have stubborn populations. I think by nature Americans are friendly and relaxed and quite trusting but a lot of fear is whipped up by politicians and the media.

The muckraking documentary film maker Michael Moore tried to explain in “Bowling for Columbine” why some schoolkids go ballistic and kill 10-20-30 of their mates. He agreed on guns as a factor, but he also included clip after clip of the media inciting or channeling fear.  Many people are freaked. It’s amazing anyone goes out in the dark.

“Fry ‘em” seems the result.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/01/12 at 06:57 PM | #

Chami, that is a real generalization.  I have never even seen a gun after living years in the USA and none of my friends or family has ever been threatened by someone with a gun.  You can safely make an offensive joke depending on who you are insulting and when.  I wouldn’t make a racist remark at night in a poor community, no that would not be wise, but you would have to be real idiot to do that or to be there unless you had to be. 

Yes in some areas there are more guns than others.  Unfortunately, in the poorer black communities there are a lot of drugs being sold and bought and guns and murders seem to be pretty common too.  However it is true that there are a lot more guns in America than in European countries.  Not that you need a gun to murder someone (i.e. in this case).  I do not know why there are so many more prisoners but I think that many are for drug possession and/or violence committed in relation to drugs.  Others for simple violence. 

There have been so many horrendous stories recently in US news especially about children being murdered in some terrible way which makes you think twice about the death penalty for certain cases. I thought the drug sellers by race graph was interesting as I had never heard of that stat before, but I do think you have to distinguish between types of drugs.  Of course there is plenty of drug use among the rich and famous, who have the money to pay for them. 

I hope we are not having a European against American attitude on this website.  I’m interested in the facts of the specific case and bringing the truth out, no matter what nationality was involved.  However I do know the American media made a big story out of this case in order to up their ratings.  Most Americans are good people and spend a lot of money on tourism in Europe.  They are not bringing a gun with them either when they visit!

Posted by believing on 02/02/12 at 12:33 AM | #

Hi Believing. Good comment. I can see you are also wisely trying to describe things in shades of grey.  Some of what we post here is in answer to the absurd anti-Italy charges of the FOA. Chami is not in Europe (and like me sometimes has a taste for the sardonic) but pressure from Europe may not be a bad thing.. 

Close to 1 million are inside in the US for doing drugs - not dealing, merely doing. That number is winding down now. One network just aired a report on medical marijuana being grown and sold in California and it was hilarious how many find they have a medical need. Okay with me though I dont trust skunk and I think long-term use of any drug will impair the little grey cells.

The “reach for your gun” mentality did largely disappear back in Wild West days. The many personal guns in some regions are almost invisible I too have never seen one that is kept for defense. In some states hand guns are illegal or very hard to get a license for including those here in the northeast where shootings are rare.

There sure have been some horrific crimes lately. Nancy Grace seems to be focusing exclusively on tot cases these days. I have been watching the “Women Who Kill” series and similar for possible posts.

Do you know of the Florida case of Courtney Schulhoff? She was 16 when she encouraged an older boyfriend to kill her dad.  Both are now put away for life without parole; there is some questioning that as a minor for her this is too harsh.

She is smart and interesting looking and even I can feel her enticing me to root for her even though I have no doubt she is psychopathic. There is a misleading and manipulative German prison interview with her here:

Someone who clearly knows both the case and the nature of the girl better than I do - she did confess at the end of her trial - wrote this comment on YouTube about that interview:

wow, this “news” show is the most biased piece of shit i’ve ever come across. she was raped by her dad? um, no she wasn’t. she’s a victim of a merciless american criminal justice system that puts poor little kiddies away for life?

um, no. she plotted the death of her father, and stood by while her boyfriend bashed her dad’s skull in and dumped him in a tupperware container. and then she admitted it all under oath at trial.  this bitch is exactly where she’s supposed to be.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 02/02/12 at 01:38 PM | #

Can’t resist quoting from the so-called Seventh Wing, a traditional commentary on the Book of Change (I Ching or Yi King.)

Quote: “Where a servant murders his master, where a son murders his father, the causes do not lie between the morning and evening of one day.  It took a long time for things to go so far.  It came about because things that should have been stopped were not stopped soon enough.”

I can’t regard Courtney Schulhof as psychopathic although from the TV snippet, it’s very clear that she feels no trace of remorse for acquiescing in her father’s bludgeoning.

Where she differs from Amanda Knox, even rather immensely, is that Amanda had no conceivable grievance against her new-found roommate, such as the Chinese text wisely points out in a case of parricide.

Schulhof (whose name means playground or school yard) ought to be re-sentenced benignly.  Whereas what Amanda needs is psychotherapy in depth: psychoanalysis. She could get this “on her own” by a searchingly written book about the whole experience & its earlier foreshadowings.

I could even believe that she could find courage within herself for such an effort.  At present everything in her world pushes her away from that, including her own prior warping.

Posted by Ernest Werner on 02/02/12 at 04:24 PM | #

It is common for many criminals to sincerely believe that they have done the right thing.

Killing with a gun has some sort of benign detachment - sort of like a drone attack. Killing with a bat is showing your personality- you are enjoying the action and the scene - sort of delivering a kind of primordial justice. At that moment they become the god in their own mind. Amanda had to struggle with her conscience to utter the words: I did not kill. Even then she avoids Meredith’s name. These are small symptoms but they do point to something! Denial is just a formality to be performed but you can see and feel the inner tempers.

Who can understand the pathology of the mind of these people! We always try to understand everything in our own ways but these people cannot communicate- they live in their own fantasy world. See the way AK and RS acted after the murder- it will always remain incomprehensible enigma.

We always wonder “afterwards” why nobody notices their little eccentricities “earlier”- these are catastrophes that always takes every one by surprise.

There is nothing for us to do but to pray.

The only justification for our concepts and systems of concepts is that they
serve to represent the complex of our experiences; beyond this they have
no legitimacy.  —Albert Einstein

Posted by chami on 02/02/12 at 09:33 PM | #

Two interesting websites I found comparing murders/homicides per capita in different European countries and overall in Europe vs. the US.  It doesn’t look like the US has very many more than Europe despite the much higher number of guns.  It varies by country and by U.S. state.  I was surprised about some of the countries like Lithuania.

Posted by believing on 02/06/12 at 04:41 AM | #

Here is a very informative article in the NY Times, which provides real journalism, about why there are so many more American prisoners than European.  One reason is that American prison sentences for relatively light crimes like burglary and passing bad checks are much longer.  Another reason is the war on drugs.

Posted by believing on 02/06/12 at 04:49 AM | #

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