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

Always teach the controversy!


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

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“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?

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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.

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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).

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“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.

It bothers me that the chart’s x-axis does not seem to be evenly spaced - the decades on the right seem closer together somehow.

that’s an interesting way you twist the call for progressive taxation.

the whole point of reining in the extremes of capitalism are so that investors and corporations aren’t sucking up the profits of the labor of others – and that includes the capital wealth extraction that has kept so many countries in poverty.

right now in the united states, people earning far more than your 48k are paying far less – not only percentage wise, but often in absolute sense.

note the connection here to mass incarceration, the drug war, and the new jim crow: it drives tax dollars into privately held corporations, it undermines the social fabric, and profits from a literally captive work force.

it saps the good work your tax money could be doing, and hands it to the 1% of your 1%.

really? if we can agree that furthering inequality is unethical, it doesn’t really matter how a guide to increasing inequality categorizes itself.

again, sticking to the point: the private prison industry points to all the good work it does – the jobs it bring to rural communities, and the tax dollars in diverts to state and local coffers, etc. – but, we can look at the totality and see what damage it is doing to the country.


meanwhile, the far right is taking tiny portions of its wealth and having outsized influences on politics.

the hard part about getting rid of private prison industry, the bail bonds systems, and ending the war on drugs are the entrenched monied interests which have an outsized voice due to their outsized cash. it’s a self-sustaining problem.

ending the idea that money and speech are the same, ending the idea that corporations are people, re-establishing constraints on capital – these are all necessary pieces of the puzzle.

they require “top-down” laws which establish some sort of balance between personal power and corporate power.


The guide does not talk about increasing inequality, it talks about threats to the current level (as well as predictions that the trends will continue). I fail to see an ethical distinction between that and a report indicating the threats to continued US prosperity that keeps America (and the West) mich richer than the rest of the world and thus a desirable market for companies.

Make no mistake, I am quite left in my views, but I cannot pretend I have the ethical high ground over the right wingers. I have my preferences - and my preferences are to reduce inequality that will make a significant difference to society around me without destroying my life style completely. But let’s face it, I have very little interest in reducing inequality in a way that would make a significant difference in a global scale but would reduce me to what I see an penury (and what the rest of the world sees as comfortably middle class.)

In that, there are very few in the West who are ethically different from the 1% of the 1%. As Western middle class, we’re obscenely rich, while not working harder than those who are far poorer, who we exploit for cheap labor. There’s some difference of degree, but not much.

Again, I stand with you in fighting for pretty much the same social change in society. But there’s no way I can claim ethical superiority over the “greedy” who, despite earning multiples of my income, don’t feel they’re rich. By any rational standard, I’m one of them. That doesn’t invalidate my actions and goals. It does invalidate my moral superiority over those I disagree with.

And coincidentally enough, once I don’t believe that they’re moral pygmies for not believing in the same redistribution that I do, I stand a much better chance of actually persuading them to adopt my preferences.

It’s why I consider the ‘demonize the right’ posts to be counter-productive. We shouldn’t need that sort of hypocritical crutch to do what we think needs to be done. It also helps bolster the idea that 300 million are helpless before a handful of billionaires, which is patently absurd. They spend what, maybe $10 million dollars, and that’s supposed to out weigh 10,000,000 actually spending time communicating and talking? Talk about learned helplessness!

Koch wants to go grassroots? Let him. He’s simply acknowledging the strength of democracy - that people’s votes count. And if I can’t persuade people face-to-face that my vision of the future is better than the Koch’s, then it’s me that has the serious problem.

It is evenly spaced, it just gains resolution towards the end. A likely product of the information age.

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