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Criminal justice

Criminal justice majors are proposing to put themselves in the center of one of the most contentious and controversial parts of our political process. What makes it so contentious? Let’s look at some facts.

Violent Crime Rates in the U.S.

Violent Crime Rates in the U.S.

The U.S. outpaces the rest of the world in private gun ownership. We have more guns than people.

  1. United States     112 guns per 100 people
  2. Serbia     75 guns per 100 people
  3. Yemen     54
  4. Cyprus     36
  5. Saudi Arabia     35
  6. Iraq     34

The U.S. also leads the world in the percentage of the population that is in jail or prison. The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but 22% of its prisoners.

That’s not because the U.S. has more crime. In fact, the U.S. has less crime than many other countries with much lower incarceration rates. In spite of what politicians tell you, crime has been decreasing for decades.violent-crime-incarceration

The U.S. is the world’s jailer because we, as a society, have chosen the option of locking up hundreds of thousands of young black men for decades at a time.

Given the nature of complex human behavior, there is not always a bright line where criminal behavior begins. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that about half of the crimes committed are reported to or detected by a law enforcement agency. After that the criminal justice funnel narrows further. Conclusion: most people get away with most crimes most of the time.

Ethnic Differences in Incarceration Rates

Ethnic Differences in Incarceration Rates

Yet blacks are far more likely to be incarcerated longer than white who commit the same crimes. See Pew Research’s Incarceration gap widens between whites and blacks.

These criminal justice issues are the result of choices our society has made politically. For example, Dearborn County in rural southeastern Indiana, population 50,000, sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, N.C. with combined populations of over 1,000,000.

What other options do we have?


Criminal justice funnel

  • What are the four U.S. parties proposing to do?
  • What options did the Australian and Dutch societies choose instead?
  • What do you think the U.S. should do? Why?