It’s so ugly and we allow it

This clip is from QI, a British panel show, hosted by Stephen Fry.Fry asks the participants “where one percent of Americans can be found.” You and I know the answer is ‘prison’. But the contestants did not. Watch then – as they learn and draw their conclusions.

13 responses to “It’s so ugly and we allow it

  1. It’s actually approx. 0.7% but that’s close enough for jazz. I can’t see where it’s a problem though. Criminals belong in prison and the more we put in there the less are on the street.

    As approx. 50% of the inmates are violent offenders, I’d say that we’re better off with them quarantined for as long as possible, especially given that there’s an 67% or so recidivism rate among criminals.


    • It’s a problem and it reflects on who we are and how many people we’re willing to just throw away.

      Ultimately, it’s not good for the country and it’s morally wrong to think prison is the answer to every social transgression.


      • OK, Moe; let’s say we let all the nonviolent offenders out. We’d still be 3rd in the world for incarceration rates.

        The problem isn’t imprisoning people. The problem is too many of them are criminals in the first place.


        • And that forces us to face our own society and ask why. Because we are definitely doing something wrong. We might start with those laws that make crime so profitable and violent – I get pretty libertarian about victimless crimes and how we make things criminal that really only need to be regulated – like drugs, prostitution etc. .


          • No, Moe; it doesn’t force us to do so, at least not in an honest and meaningful way. Look at your own statement. In it you say that we’re doing something wrong and strongly implying that we made them into criminals by failing them somehow – when they’re the ones that failed America and themselves.

            Also, we can’t look at crime without looking at the cultural demographics of criminals and the impact of some subcultures upon their members’ proclivities towards crimes, especially violent crime. And we can’t do that without the ethnoguiltists and racial grievance-mongers screaming, “Racist!” Indeed, just bringing that up will likely goad one or more of the people here to do just that.


  2. Ms. Holland,

    I am surprised that you would list prostitution as a victimless crime. As most prostitution is controlled by men and is for the benefit of men, and most women involved are victims of pimps or poverty, I don’t follow your reasoning.

    You are on more solid ground concerning drugs. At the state level pot is legal in some places. Comparing crime statistics in the next 10 years between the states that allow production and consumption with the rest, should help settle it.


    • Alan,

      On prostitution – we don’t actually have good numbers for generating accurate statistics on the percentages of prostitutes controlled by pimps in the manner you’re alluding to. Additionally, that business model would be ended by legalization of the trade.

      On drug use – the drug trade involves 100s of thousands of victims annually worldwide and legalizing drugs in the US won’t significantly curb those numbers unless the supplying nations also legalize the drug trade. Even then, “corporate warfare” is a “bit more feral” in those countries, so the death toll and other victimization won’t drop to baseline noise levels.


      • jonolan – I think the point of decriminalization first has be to be about hitting the bankbooks of the underground criminal syndicates that run the drug trade. Addressing drug use among Americans is a different matter altogether. First one, then maybe the other.


  3. From the Wikipedia page on “Incarceration in the United States”:

    7.9% of sentenced prisoners in federal prisons on September 30, 2009 were in for violent crimes.

    And (emphasis added),

    Violent crime was not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States from 1980 to 2003. Violent crime rates had been relatively constant or declining over those decades. The prison population was increased primarily by public policy changes causing more prison sentences and lengthening time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, “three strikes” laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release. These policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, but instead yielded high rates of confinement for nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes. 49 percent of sentenced state inmates were held for violent offenses. Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national “war on drugs.” The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.

    The only other country that comes close to our rate of imprisonment is . . . Russia, which has 75% as many as we do. And just one more point, again from Wiki: in 2007, the average annual cost of incarcerating each year was $30,600, a cost that is accelerating because the cons are getting old.

    I agree with Moe. We need to legalize (and tax) some drugs, and eliminate some victimless crimes. And, we need to return discretion to judges instead of mandatory sentencing laws.


    • Jim – thanks for all that. the 12x increase in drug offenders blows me away. Also, I failed to mention all those insidious mandatory sentencing laws. And recidivism. And of course, one of the very worst ideas in our history – creating a privatized prison industry motivated by profit to lobby legislators for even tougher sentencing laws.

      My teeth hurt.


      • A few small points – Jim’s numbers are for federal prisons. Violent criminals make up approx. 50% of the total – state & federal – prison population. Remember, there are few solely federal crimes that are violent so most of those stay within the states’ jurisdictions.

        Even Jim’s source cites that only 22% of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges and doesn’t state whether or not they were also convicted on other, possibly violent, charges.


        • Violent criminals make up approx. 50% of the total – state & federal – prison population.

          No, you have misread it, John. It says,

          21.6% of convicted inmates in jails in 2002 (latest available data by type of offense) were in for violent crimes.

          The phrase “in jails” refers to all jails, both local and federal. Link:

          It’s under “Violent and Nonviolent Crime”, about 20% down the page.

          As far as the number on drug charges, 22% is correct, but that is cited as a 12-fold increase since 1980! The trend is clear.


        • One – the same wiki also states that 49% of sentenced state inmates were held for violent offenses.

          Two – it also states that 60% of the increase in incarceration is for violent offenses.

          Three – It’s, like so many, a lousy wiki, filled with conflicting statistics entered by many different people with conflicting agendas. I prefer to get such data from the DOJ or or other sites.


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