U.S. wins the wrong kind of “gold”: US incarceration rate leads the world

By Alex Wagner
ACLU of Texas Legal Intern

Test your knowledge about over-incarceration in Texas

The University of San Francisco Law School and the Center for Law and Global Justice recently published a report comparing the American criminal justice system with that of other countries. The results were not flattering.

Compared to the rest of the world, the United States incarcerates for longer periods of time for less serious offenses. That’s why the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, despite the fact that several European countries actually exceed the United States in prison admissions per capita per year. According to the report, the sentencing practices of the United States are not only out-of-step with the rest of the world and fail to address rehabilitation.

Drug offenders in America are incarcerated for much longer than their international counterparts. Possession of one kilogram of cocaine could earn an American offender a decade in prison, while an offender in Britain would only receive a six-month sentence for the same offense.

And America has many more prisoners serving life sentences without the possibility of parole than any other country in the world. There are about 42,000 prisoners in the US serving life sentences, compared to 59 prisoners serving life in Australia and 41 in England. In most countries life sentences are reserved for extremely heinous crimes such as multiple homicide, whereas in America life sentences can be meted out for much less. Thanks to habitual offender statutes (California’s “three strikes law” being an infamous example), Americans can receive decades in prison for stealing a pair of shoes if the infraction is the third strike.

The report also blames our high incarceration rates on lack of judicial discretion and mandatory minimum sentencing, the frequent use of consecutive sentencing, and the rise in prison privatization. Private prisons hold about 6 percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners. Private prisons benefit financially from laws that require longer sentences, and the industry therefore lobbies against shorter sentences.

The report makes several recommendations to shorten prison terms and bring our sentencing practices more in-line with the rest of the world:
• Abolishing mandatory minimum sentences in favor of more flexible sentencing guidelines;
• Reserve life without parole sentences for only the most extreme cases;
• Retroactively applying new sentencing laws when the new law would reduce the sentence of an offender; and
• Consider international legal standards when codifying sentencing laws.

The ACLU has worked to address over-incarceration nationwide by promoting the passage of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. Several states, including Texas, are also starting to address the issue and have passed bipartisan reforms to reduce incarceration rates.

Purchase tickets to see Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in Houston October 2nd.

2 thoughts on “U.S. wins the wrong kind of “gold”: US incarceration rate leads the world”

  1. This is a very informative and interesting blog, with statistics that are alarming, to say the least. Hats off to the writer for bringing it to our attention and to the ACLU for its dedicated efforts to address over-incarceration.

  2. In 1997, my sister Helen L Ransom, age 26 was given 60 years in prison for an accident involving her toddler daughter. I believe the time does not fit the accident. I would like to give a little insight on my sister and her state of mind.
    When my sister Helen was 15 or 16 years of age, she became pregnant with her first child. About seven months into her pregnancy she began to experience pain. Our parents had taken her to the hospital. She was seen by a doctor at JPS. He did not feel she was in labor so he sent her home. Upon leaving the hospital her child began to come out. He was in breech position. The attending physician began to pull upon this child. He pulled so hard that the baby’s head was violently ripped or detached from his body. He then left my sister’s infant child’s body with my sister. My mother entered the room with my sister and witnessed my sister putting the infant’s head on his body and the head fell off. My mother called the physician, as well as the nurse and asked them to remove the infant from the room.
    The second incident occurred when my sister gave birth to her third child. She had a nightmare about someone at the hospital stealing her newborn. This dream troubled her so much that she wanted to give birth at home to prevent this event from occurring. I reassured her that it was only a dream and convinced my sister to go to the hospital.
    Dellandra was born at Osteopathic hospital and the attending physician was Dr. Allan Levine. She was born premature weighing 4 pounds because my sister was only seven months pregnant. Dellandra was born with apnea. After the birth of Dellandra, the physician failed to provide my sister’s newborn daughter with identifying bracelets on her ankle and wrist. He was in the process of removing the child from the premises of the hospital to send her to another hospital without id bracelets. He bypassed notifying my sister about her daughter’s condition of apnea and took matters into his own hands by preparing to send her newborn to another hospital without id bracelets by Teddy Bear Unit Paramedics.
    The nurse rolled my sister in the wheel chair toward the elevator, and at that precise moment my sister noticed a doctor pushing an incubator with a baby in it into the elevator. My sister told the doctor the child he had in the incubator was in fact her child. The doctor Alan Levine told my sister this is not your baby. The nurse then stated she believed it was in fact my sister’s child. The doctor after realizing the baby he had in his possession was my sister’s daughter stated he was sending the baby to Cooks Children Hospital due to apnea. He also said he was emergency transferring the baby there and did not notify my sister the mother because of the extreme emergency. My sister told Dr. Allan Levine anywhere her baby goes she was going to because she felt he was trying to steal her baby. Dr. Allan Levine told my sister he was not allowing her to leave the premises and if she left she was leaving against medical advice. My sister Helen said she was leaving. The doctor told my sister if she left he would call CPS because he felt she was interfering with the health of her child. She got into the ambulance with the baby and left the hospital to follow her newborn so no one would steal it.
    My sister Helen asked the paramedics to take the baby to JPS hospital instead of Cook’s Children and they did. Upon arriving at JPS, my sister informed Dr. Lamb of the situation and wanted the doctor to know her daughter may have had a series of immunization shots at another hospital after witnessing Dr. Lamb attempting to immunize her daughter. Dr. Lamb asked my sister if she would go to the waiting room while she analyzed my sister’s newborn condition. My sister went to the waiting room. Shortly after the hospital police walked into the waiting area and told my sister to leave the premises. My sister told them she had given birth at another hospital and her daughter had been transferred there at JPS. The hospital police told my sister they did not believe she had a daughter there and if she did the President is his brother. The hospital police told my sister to leave the hospital premises because she was criminally trespassing. My sister proceeded to call the Fort Worth Police Department on the phone in the waiting room and explained the situation to them. The hospital police proceeded to take the phone from my sister then they beat her with their batons. Then my sister Helen was arrested not allowed to speak and put into the police car. Shortly after CPS arrived at JPS hospital, looked for my sister and was told mother had abandoned baby. CPS took custody of her newborn and my sister’s other child a son. My sister when she was not allowed to see her children for two weeks. When she was finally allowed to see them she noticed her daughter had a creamy white discharge in her vaginal area and her son had belt bruises on his back. My sister asked how did the injuries on her son back and the discharge between her daughter’s legs happen. CPS told her they emergency removed her children from one foster family to another foster family but would not tell her why. My sister because of the above situations does not trust the hospitals.
    In 1997, my sister was seven months pregnant at the time with her fifth child Charlotte. She was bathing her toddler daughter Dellandra and her son Derranzi in the tub. Someone knocked on her door and she ran to door. She told her children to get out of the tub. She had Delancy, an infant at the time in her arms. Usually they both get out, but her toddler daughter stayed behind and turned the water knob on. The water came out of the faucet scalding hot. My sister ran back into the bathroom after hearing her daughter’s screams. Helen had nursing skills from being in a nursing school and did not immediately take her daughter to the hospital. She did not trust the hospital because of earlier events and decided to treat her daughter at home. I called my sister to check on her because she was pregnant, without a car and with children. I sensed something was wrong after talking with her over the phone. My mom and I went over to my sister’s apartment. Upon assessing the situation, I told my sister we need to take Dellandra to the hospital. My sister cried and said they were going to put the accident on her. She said the people at the hospital would not believe it was an accident and would take her children from her. She said they would believe she did this. I told her no they won’t. As we were heading there, she wanted to go to her doctor’s office Dr. Brooks and asked him to call it in. He called it in, and told her to take Dellandra there. As we traveled down Hemphill street, we were held up by a train. I sat in the truck with my kids and my nephew Derranzi while my mom carried Dellandra into the hospital. My sister Helen who was seven months pregnant at the time carried her other infant daughter Delancy.
    Helen told them the incident had just happened and they did not believe her. I believe she lied because she feared being separated from her children. They delayed until the police arrived. She was holding Delancy in her arms, the police grabbed her arms and Delancy fell to the floor. They said Helen dropped her infant daughter and she did not. They later charged her with injury to a child.
    Helen was given 60 years in prison; a visiting judge gave her 50 of those years because her last name is Ransom. I had bond money to get her out of jail back in 1997. The medical ward of the jail facility had given Helen psychotic meds to make it appear she had psychological problems in which she began to remove her clothing after being given meds in the release tank. She was delusional from the medication; she rambled on and played with her hands so as to appear to have psychological issues. Helen is currently housed in Gatesville Women Correctional Facility and her TDCJ number is #886178. During her incarceration she has been going back and forth from Gatesville Women Prison to the mental facility in Rusk Texas.
    Casey Anthony murdered her child and was not given prison time. My sister’s daughter suffered an accident, was taken to the hospital for treatment for the accident and was given 60 years in prison. It was an accident, but they did not look at that way. I admit she made a wrong choice to not immediately take her daughter to the hospital. I believe she took that action because of her distrust of the hospital. Please help her!

    Rachelle Ransom
    Email: Mahgurl@live.com

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