New Report: U.S. criminal justice system diverges from global perspective of incarceration

NEWPORT, R.I. — Locking up the same people over and over again points to failures in the American penal system. In a compelling study released today by the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, fellow Carolyn Deady explores why America’s prison population is so large and looks to other countries for clues to a smarter approach.

“The U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other countries. As responsible citizens we have to ask why,” said Deady. “What is so different about our society and our sense of justice that we lock-up more than 10 percent of our adult population? The answer tells us a lot about our values.”

The U.S. criminal justice system needs to shift its focus from punishment to rehabilitation, particularly for non-violent offenders, argues Deady. The study, “Incarceration and Recidivism: Lessons from Abroad,” highlights the disparity between the American criminal justice system and those of other industrial nations. “The U.S. rate of incarceration exceeds that of the rest of the world, and costs the public about $80 billion annually. As one final point of comparison,” Deady noted, “the United States has about 5 percent of the world’s population yet it accounts for about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.”

The United States compares so poorly to other nations for a variety of reasons discussed in the study. Foremost, however, Deady’s analysis points to mandatory sentencing rules, the decades-long war on drugs, and an approach to justice that emphasizes punishment over rehabilitation.

“Incarceration and Recidivism: Lessons from Abroad” is the first study in the Pell Center’s Global Challenges initiative. “We know the United States faces big challenges on a broad sweep of issues,” said Jim Ludes, Pell Center executive director. “This project is going to pivot the perspective and look at pressing social issues in the United States from abroad.  Carolyn Deady, with her background in international programming at C-SPAN, is the perfect person to lead this effort.”