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America’s punishment industry

The great incarceration experiment of the 1980s has left the US with a prison population which far exceeds those in other advanced countries. Despite locking up one in every 50 working age men the US has not yet produced a low crime society. Richard Freeman outlines the costs of incarceration and suggests some alternatives

By Richard Freeman   February 1996

Turn on the local radio and television news in virtually any city in the US. “Last night, a man was murdered/a woman robbed/drug dealers raided…”

Local radio and television news in the US consists largely of murder and crime: who shot or robbed or raped whom. It is sensational news, but not exaggerated sensationalism. It reflects the level of crime, and the failure of the great incarceration experiment (GIE)-the huge increase in the US prison population from the late 1970s.

Crime is not uniquely a US problem. Crime rates in the UK and western Europe are nothing to brag about.…

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