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The World’s Top Jailers: 24 U.S. States

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In its 2021 survey of global incarceration, the Prison Policy Initiative found that the only countries approaching the incarceration rate and ‘violent crime’ rates of individual U.S. states are El Salvador, Panama, Peru, and Turkey.

Twenty-four states have the world’s highest incarceration rates, beating even the U.S. national average and surpassing countries that have comparable or higher crime rates, says the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).

In its 2021 survey of global incarceration rates, the PPI found that “the only countries that approach the incarceration rate and ‘violent crime’ rates of the 50 states are El Salvador, Panama, Peru, and Turkey.

“If we imagine every state as an independent nation….24 states would have the highest incarceration rate in the world,” said the report, written by Emily Widra and Tiana Herring of PPI.

Even so-called “progressive” states like New York, Vermont and Massachusetts outstrip most foreign countries in the rates at which they jail people, the report said..

“In fact, many of the countries that rank alongside the least punitive U.S. states, such as Turkey, Thailand, Rwanda, and Russia, have authoritarian governments or have recently experienced large-scale internal armed conflicts,” PPI said.

The world’s top jailer in 2021 was Louisiana. Its incarceration rate of 1,094 per 100,000 was nearly double the overall U.S. average of 664 per 100,000.

It was followed, respectively, by Mississippi, Oklahoma (which was the world’s top jailer last year), Georgia, and Arkansas.

The first foreign nation appearing on the list, in the number 37 slot, was El Salvador at 562. Turkmenistan, at 552, was next, lagging just behind Oregon.

“Compared to the rest of the world, every U.S. state relies too heavily on prisons and jails to respond to crime,” the report said.

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“Our new analysis of incarceration rates and crime rates across the world reveals that the U.S.’s high incarceration rates are not a rational response to high crime rate, but rather a politically expedient response to public fears and perceptions about crime and violence,” said PPI.

Report authors:

Emily Widra is a Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. She is the organization’s expert on health and safety issues behind bars, including the coronavirus in prisons; over the past year, she has curated the Prison Policy Initiative’s virus response page,

Tiana Herring is a Research Associate at the Prison Policy Initiative. Joining the Prison Policy Initiative during the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped the organization quickly increase its output of analyses about the coronavirus behind bars.

See how your state ranks. The full report and tables can be downloaded here.

Additional reading: The failure of prison system responses to COVID-19, PPI Policy Brief, Sept. 1, 2021.

Source: The Crime Report

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