5% of the World Population; 25% of the World's Prisoners

Skip to 3:30 in the 6 minute clip and you’ll see Senator Jim Webb raising one of my favorite talking points when it comes to educating folks about the so called War on Drugs. Here’s my unofficial transcript of the relevant portion:

Webb: We’ve got an incarceration rate in this country, we’re imprisoning twenty five percent of the world’s prison population with five percent of the world’s population…

Colbert: If you can’t do the time, do not do the crime…

Webb: Well we’ve got 2.38 million people in jail; we want to lock up the bad folks but we need to take a look at what’s happened here and basically when politicians come in and talk about that they’re labeled as soft on crime…

5% of world pop with 25% of its prisoners. There are only a few possible explanations.

  • Americans are 5 times worse (badder? More criminal?) than everyone else
  • We catch a lot more folks doing bad things
  • The War on Drugs / Mandatory Minimums / etc.

If you hear hoof beats, think horses not zebras

[Hat Tip: Drug WarRant and congrats on the 5th birthday]

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Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Joseph - July 28, 2008 6:36 PM


I was wondering if you could answer a question for me, specifically due to Texas law. On the NORML.org site, they have state by state laws, and it appears some states have "cultivation" laws.

Texas does not appear to have these laws. But of course, whether it is misdemeanor or a felony appears to be determined by weight. So if someone was arrested with 1 or 2 plants, how does the law work? Do they take the plants out and weigh them? Or is there a per plant assumed weight?

Or if someone has a plant, do they assume intent to distribute?


Nicholas - August 18, 2008 12:39 PM

"There are only a few possible explanations"

You omitted one other explanation. Take a country like China: their laws are much more restrictive than the US in some respects but their incarceration rate is lower. The reason is that they often employ punitive measure that are, shall we say, non-incarceratory in nature.

Jamie - August 18, 2008 2:25 PM


Texas has separate offenses and sometimes additional penalties for manufacturing, delivering, etc. controlled substances, but not for marijuana.

The assumed amount of marijuana per pot plant is actually a federal thing, not a state law thing, so as far as the Texas Penal Code is concerned, that's not an issue.

Jamie - August 18, 2008 2:26 PM


Good point - but I don't think they are killing that many people in China...

Thanks for stopping by.

A Jeffersonian - September 2, 2008 11:45 AM

Great post! We incarcerate more than any totalitarian regime in the world today. There are so many laws that everyone is guilty of breaking some of them. If you happen to break the law de jour you get to spend time in one of the new facilities that officials seem so bent on building.

San Antonio Attorney - September 8, 2008 9:05 AM

Perhaps good prisoners should be given early parole to lessen occupants of the prison facility,so as to decrease its population.

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