Why are so Many Americans in Prison? Author Michael Stoll on America's Ridiculous Incarceration Rates

"Every ten or eleven people that you meet, someone is going to either know someone in prison, has been in prison with a record, or you met them and they are going off to prison," says Michael Stoll, co-author of Why are so Many Americans in Prison?

ReasonTV's Tracy Oppenheimer sat down with Stoll to discuss why incarceration rates and associated prison costs in America have exploded in the last few decades, and possible ways to reform the system.

"That increase [in incarceration rates] that we saw, 80 percent of that through our analysis, was driven by policy changes, not by the increased criminality of citizens in the United States," says Stoll. "One of the things that I think needs to be done—and we know that this is politically difficult—is there has to be reform in sentencing."

About 7 minutes.

Edited by Tracy Oppenheimer. Camera by Zach Weissmueller and Sharif Matar.

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  • Troy muy grande boner||

    Helllooooo Tracy. :) :D

    Epi, Warty, Sugar (Jesus, it's like they subcontracted out you guys to be one of the horseman of the Apocalypse).... could you please shut the fuck up and not scare her off?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Yeah I'm sure it's the Axis of Glib scaring the women away and not the idiots who are all hur-hur-hur-its-a-gurl.

  • Troy muy grande boner||

    Quit AMOGing my thread, alpha wannabe.

  • Jake W||

    I'm not sure if you are even remotely serious, Troy.

  • Troy muy grande boner||

    I got a C- in serious.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    It might have something to do with literally anything you do is a violation of some law or regulation. All you have to do is upset some LEO or regulatory zealot, and away you go.

    I am not so sure about that 1 in 10 for everybody. In certain circles, sure, but we really do not meet others randomly. I've worked places where the percentage is much higher, and places where it was zero. As far as purely social interaction goes, way lower.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I really think it's no longer death for a politician to say that criminal sentencing needs to be reformed. A "Soft on crime" label isn't what it was in the late 80's or early 90's.

  • Federale||

    So, now Libertarians want rapists and murders out on the streets?

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Yes. Support the W.A.R.T.Y. Act and reduce their sentences to time served.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    It's not prison, it's a form of taxation.

    /JohnRoberts

  • mrvco||

    Or a plentiful source $.25/hour labor.

  • bassjoe||

    The US Code's criminal sections are written so broadly that it is nearly impossible to go through life without technically violating them.

    It doesn't help that federal defendants and many state defendants are crippled at the very beginning of their proceedings by civil seizure laws, where they lose access to ALL of their money if the feds merely allege that SOME of their money was gotten through "illegal" means, forcing them to rely on overworked public defenders who are just looking for a quick plea agreement.

  • crazyfingers||

    I have a cousin in prison for 4 years for selling marijuana in Colorado. How fucked up is that? He would've got less time for robbing banks.

  • Thomas O.||

    Any possibility of parole, now that MJ is legal there?

  • CLamb||

    MJ is not legal in Colorado. Only the state law has changed. It is still illegal under Federal law.

  • ||

    Money. Prison guard unions. "Corrections" companies. Money.

    Did I mention "money"?

  • Thomas O.||

    I'm just surprised it took this long for someone to mention Big Prison Inc.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Does anyone remember when Robert Poole and the other Reasoniods were all, "Hey, let's privatize the prisons!! Yayyyyy!"

    Just another example of why minarchism sux and anarcho-capitalism rocks the universe.

  • bassjoe||

    It is kind of amazing how the American people get effed by both sides in this mess called the Drug War.

    The unions resist efforts to reform drug laws which will close prisons by lobbying/bribing elected Democrats. The Republicans support even tougher anti-drug laws while pushing for the "privatization" of pretty much everything because they don't want to enrich the public sector unions; the Republican-supporting corporations are there to open for-profit prisons on the public dime.

    It should come as no shock that every major effort to reform the drug laws in this country has come through the ballot box, not through the legislatures.

  • Frodo Teabaggins||

    Maybe our crime rates are so low because incarceration is so high? More delliberate obfuscation from the libertarian wing of the republicans!

  • bassjoe||

    Maybe our crime rates are so "low" because people are terrified of being incarcerated for "crimes" that harm nobody.

    Yes, that's how society should exist: terrified into compliance by its own government.

  • Brian||

    I thought he was being sarcastic.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Did you not read the text?

    "That increase [in incarceration rates] that we saw, 80 percent of that through our analysis, was driven by policy changes, not by the increased criminality of citizens in the United States,"
    What a nimrod (Frodo).

  • jhornburg01||

    Yes, it is true that this was said, but that doesn't mean Frodo was wrong. In fact, he could be 100% correct if the policy changes were very accurate at, effectively, incarcerating people who were more likely to commit crimes. We know that much crime is drug related. So, if we incarcerate drug users, doesn't it stand to reason that that might contribute to lower crime rates going forward?

  • creech||

    Instead of disparaging "an eye for an eye" we should practice it, and there would be far fewer people in prison. In other words, if the penalty (restitution) equaled the cost of the "crime" the excessive penalties (incarceration)we all too often see, would go away.

  • Paul.||

    Why are so Many Americans in Prison?

    Because Libertopia is upon us and there's a law making almost everything illegal? Either that or it has something to do with the government shutdownpocalypse.

  • daveyindetroit@gmail.com||

    Richard Wershe Jr is serving a LIFE sentence for one *non-violent* drug charge he recieved as a minor (17 years old) back in May of 1987. Three years prior Rick was recruited by Federal agents and Detroit police as a teenage undercover informant in Detroit's dangerous drug underworld of the 1980s. Rick's release is long overdue!!

    http://www.deadlinedetroit.com.....kjCD8c0_Mg

    https://www.facebook.com/freewhiteboyrickwershe

  • Simon9_1956||

    I'd love to see all the vices decriminalized (obviously the Drug War would be the biggest difference) and ONLY actual crimes against people punished. Incorporate restitution where feasible.

    I'd like to see prison sentences shorter but a lot harsher. No goodies. Make them work. Make them hate it and never want to go back. And execute the really vile ones. No thirty year sentences. If somebody should be removed from society for that long, just end it rather than keep them alive.

    It'll never happen of course, just like giving simple knowledge tests to voters to determine if they have the faintest idea of what and whom they're voting for, but I can dream, can't I?

  • Robert||

  • DenverJay||

    Of course its the money. California's 3 Strike Law's biggest proponent was the prison guard's union. All across the nation, the biggest obstacle to sentencing reform and ending drug prohibition are the prison guard's unions, LEO unions, and companies that build and operate prisons.
    If I weren't agnostic, I would say that there is a special level in hell reserved for people who would throw their fellow citizens in prison just to safeguard there own paychecks and careers. Those are the kind of people who are drawn to government work, and those are the kind of people who make government such a dangerous proposition.

  • DenverJay||

    err.. "3rd Strike" and "their"

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  • jhornburg01||

    This was a disappointing interview for an organization called "Reason". It seemed to me that there was a lot of appealing to emotions: "it's expensive", "it's overcrowded", etc. I think there are many valid criticisms to be made around "mass incarceration" but this piece really didn't get to them. For example, the piece could have touched on racial disparities in sentencing for the same crime and the treatment of rock vs. powder cocaine.

  • daveyindetroit@gmail.com||

    Richard Wershe Jr is serving a LIFE sentence for one *non-violent* drug charge he recieved as a minor (17 years old) back in May of 1987. Three years prior Rick was recruited by Federal agents and Detroit police as a teenage undercover informant in Detroit's dangerous drug underworld of the 1980s. Rick's release is long overdue!!

    http://www.deadlinedetroit.com.....kjCD8c0_Mg

    https://www.facebook.com/freewhiteboyrickwershe

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  • pangloss90@gmail.com||

    One of the best summations of the problems I've heard is "Prison should be for people we have reason to fear. Instead we use it for people we're mad at." This was from, iirc, a former right-wing hard-on-crime politician who'd done time on some kind of corruption bust and now stumps for sentencing and prison reform.

  • jhornburg01||

    I disagree with the implication you're making, because I think we have reason to fear the people who have been incarcerated. Are not many more violent crimes linked to drug use and thus do we not have reason to fear repeated drug offenders?

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