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April 26, 2007


5 times higher than W. Europe and 25 times higher than India.

In the case of India, I do believe that far too few criminals are in jail, especially among those holding political office.

The incarceration rate in the US is ridiculous - not for violent offenders but for the non-violent ones who land up in jail because of the unconscionable three strikes rule affecting those possessing small quantities of drugs. The other section of the population, many of whom should not be in jail but land up there are any way are the mentally retarded and the psychologically disturbed. Since Reagan decided to close down mental health facilities to save money, these unfortunates who need medical care and not punitive confinement, have landed up on skid row, under the bridges and increasingly, in the prison system. What a shame. In the meanwhile we are spending trillions of dollars waging criminal wars on other nations.

Where is the prison ward for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and George Tenet? If they were to go to jail, they could at least pony up the money for better accommodations than most!

The article on "5-star" prisons was fascinating. How long before this becomes its own profit center and the Hyatts and Hiltons move in? :)

Agree with your observation on India. It's particularly true of politicians (MLAs) in UP and Bihar - some 25% have FIRs against them for bribes, kidnappings, assaults, even rapes and murders. Rank, money, and political shelter (as in Modi's Gujarat after the '02 riots) help many escape prosecutions in India. Corruption of law and justice surely serve to lower the incarceration rates. Moreover, the reach of the state judicial/penal system is far from uniform, skewing the statistics further. Underreporting is a problem too, esp. with crimes against women and lower castes.

Among factors contributing positively to lower incarceration rates in India is its smaller hard drugs problem (and more tolerance of soft drugs). I think this and the lack of a gun owning culture has helped keep everyday violent crime relatively low on average. While crime has risen in the last two decades, large chunks of India still feel perfectly safe, especially in the south, the west, and the Himalayan belt. During my recent, incident-free, two-year journey through 20 Indian states, I often wondered: given all the stresses, repressions, inequities, grievances, and disparities in Indian society, why isn't the crime in India 10 times higher?!

All in all, I think W. Europe is a more appropriate basis of comparison with the US. Their difference of 5X is probably due both to a higher incidence of violence in American society and to its excessively punitive regime.

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New Book by Namit Arora

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

Shunya Website

Namit wins 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2011

Namit Arora's India Photo Archive