The hockey-stick from hell: US incarceration per 100,000 people, 1890-today

[Read the post]

1 Like

Well thank goodness they caught all those bad guys! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.


This guy?

Pfft! That hockey stick graph is the result of natural cycles and grant-hungry scientists cooking . . . oh, wait, wrong controversy.


Once again Cory attributes this horrible development to a secret (or not so secret) cabal, and by doing so, let’s it all be the fault of some “other”. As I watch in horror as incarceration rates now grow in Canada after they’ve already been discredited in the US, it’s clear that lobbying is only a tiny contributer to the problem.

It’s the voters - you and me.

As a whole, we prefer the faux security of locking up large numbers of poor people and ignoring the massive cost to the social fabric of the lower classes. And I don’t see that changing unless large number of people who believe otherwise are willing to spend the time and energy to engage with those who don’t think like them, in an attempt to persuade them otherwise.

Do I? Not really. Cory certainly does a lot more than I ever will. But he often does so by letting his audience off the hook for their implicit social responsibility for these disasters by finding some (very real) bad guys, and implicitly putting all the blame on them.

We live in a democracy. When we want to know who is responsible for things going off the rails and who can fix it, we need only look in the mirror.

Now, choosing apathy or some comfortable blogging is a perfectly valid choice. The personal effort involved may not worth the movement of the needle that tiny amount. But then let’s acknowledge that we can and choose not to do so, rather than rewarding ourselves by discharging all blame onto some villains.


Always teach the controversy!


Maybe b/c earlier on suspects didn’t live long enough to see a trial let alone prison?

1 Like

“At the time, going from 120 to 100 prisoners per 10,000 adult residents probably seemed like a significant drop.”

Those figures are per 100,000, not per 10,000. That statement is misleading by a factor of 10.

Is it me, or does it look like it’s levelling off at the top?

It is. At the highest level in the entire world.

There is no dictatorship with more prisoners per capita that the USA, no democracy, no nation, nowhere.

You don’t want to level off in hell.


It’s too early on the west coast for me to add anything of substance. Tho, I will add the sole observation that apathy is functionally indistinguishable from withdrawing in disgust. Those are oft confused but there is an important distinction. The former hide in holes, the latter plot and plan.

Oh, and since the U.S. sold politics to the rich - lock, stock & both smoking barrels- with Citizens United there have been a LOT more people withdrawing.

B.S. stakes it as a primary platform component… not that I’m endorsing him; just hate Citizens United.

…but the hockey stick has more to do with the cocaine powder v crack sentencing disparity from the '86 ADAA than any other single contributor within the various contributions from the venerable War on Drugs. There are still vast numbers of people arrested in the 80’s who are still inside today.

This just reminded me of a report I once read (wish I could remember the name of it so I could cite it - I think this might be it) where it outlined the greatest risks to wealth and IIRC the #1 risk was “one man, one vote” and laid out plans to keep that from getting in the way. It was from a big name brokerage house or investment firm.

This sounds plausible. The report is interesting, but it’s ethically neutral - does not express an opinion about whether inequality is good or bad - just how to invest based on its existence and what the dangers to those investments would be.

Quite frankly, it’s pretty much the same strategy as investing in the US (to service the global 1% (those earning over $48K per household)). If there was an effective world government, then we could easily see a political risk of 90% tax rate at above, say, twice the median income, ~$10K.

It would beggar my family, but it would probably be far more ethically fair than the inequality that I benefit from now simply because I was born in the West.

Given I’m not willing to give up my 1% life-style (my household earns more than $48K), I guess I’m not all the fired up on the idea of reducing inequality by 1 citizen of earth/1 vote either.

In other words, I admire those who do fight to reduce inequality. But when all I do is contribute to charities and vote NDP (the Canadian social democrat party), I’m not going to heap scorn on those who feel that inequality is not a problem. After all, if I thought it was, wouldn’t I be doing a lot more?

But is the preference for faux security a built-in feature of the societies or was it caused/boosted by pressure groups?

1 Like

To address the meat of your post, politics, in the end, means people. We look at ad spending, but honestly, one-to-one in-person engagement with people who you completely disagree with is what slowly changes minds, and that’s what transforms countries over time.

We want to believe that it’s all about advertising, because that absolves us of the responsibility of personally changing people’s minds. We somehow assume that magically people should think like us, or can be transformed into thinking like us with a few minutes of air-time.

Now, interacting politely with people we share no common political viewpoint is so onerous that most of us would rather just deal with the electoral consequences of living with current society. After all, if we’re going to successfully persuade anyone, then we’re going to have to put aside our belief that those who don’t vote like us are monstrous. And knowing we’re surrounded by monsters is far too comforting to be worth the painful process of trying to change things. (Not to mention the risk that if we don’t assume they’re monsters and we spend time with them, there’s the danger that the influence might go in both directions…)

But again, it’s wrong to assume that we’re helpless, when we possess the only real tool that works in the long-term: personal contact.

The reality is that that we transform elections by transforming the people.

As humans, we have all sorts of bad qualities that have been exploited by politicians since time immemorial. And of course some groups take advantage of our unfortunate tendencies. But in the end, we have the ability to combat our worst tendencies. We have in our power the ability to change culture one person at a time, if we so choose.

See for example, acceptance of gay marriage. Not legalization - acceptance. Is there billions of dollars being spent? No. What’s behind the change? Personal exposure - and finding out the world isn’t ending.

It’ll be an other generation or two until homophobia is about as socially acceptable as racism, but culture has changed significantly in less than a decade or two. And that change might have been facilitated by legislation, but it wasn’t driven by it. What drove it is individuals meeting individuals.

I like your example and agree, the acceptance of gay marriages is indeed a “grass-roots” change.

But I’m not convinced that all changes are driven by the masses, e.g. the end of death penalty in Europe was an elitist project and for a long time unpopular with the public.

1 Like

That’s no hockey stick!


Well - no - we aren’t given much context at all. It just shows a huge increase. I assume the spike is the WoD, but I’d love to see much more detailed data. Such as separated by what they are in for, and tracking the average sentence time for each crime (ie how many years for possession and of what, rape, assault, robbery, etc).

1 Like

“The hockey-stick from hell: …”

I clicked on the story thinking it was going to be something about illegal hockey sticks in the NHL.

Talk about click-bait…


There’s no doubt that you can temporarily drive policy from the top-down, and it can indeed help change social beliefs. The abolition of the death penalty is one such example. Another example is the punishment of drunk driving (I remember the howls from the all around when they first started heavily penalizing “good family men” for DUI.)

However, mass incarceration is not such a policy. It’s widely supported in most opinion polls that don’t put the social costs front and centre.

Which means that to change things, we need to show the cost in a way that is meaningful to those who currently believe the costs are worth paying.