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This World Map Shows The Enormity Of America's Prison Problem

About 2.4 million people live behind bars in America — the highest number in the world. That’s a little more than .7% of the population and more than 700 for every 100,000 people.

This world map illustrates how disconcerting that is.

The size of each country corresponds to the size of its total prison population (as of 2010), and a darker colour indicates a higher incarceration rate. The area of the U.S. is bigger than China, a country that dwarfs the U.S. general population by more than four. Also note how tiny Canada looks next to the U.S.

Prison mapJan Van der Weijst

Compare that map this one, which uses data from the International Centre for Prison Studies to show the number of prisoners per 100,000 citizens (as of October 2012). The data hasn’t changed much, and this map focuses on the incarceration rates without factoring in the total prison population.

Here the problem becomes even more clear: Not even Russia, a post-Soviet country known for locking people up and throwing away the key, is in the same league as the U.S. when it comes to incarceration rate.

Wikipedia Commons

Some people blame the for-profit system for the growing number of incarcerations. When a Barclays’ analyst toured a private prison seeking investment opportunities, he produced some creepy points.

More generally, the “War on Drugs” is on the hook. Since the 1980s, federal inmates numbers have soared almost 800% as law enforcement cracks down on drug offenders to decrease rates of addiction and use.

The result: Minor drug offenses put blacks behind bars at disproportionately higher rates than whites. And the growing number of whites in prison can be partly attributed to America’s massive meth problem that has arisen in the last 10 years.

Basically, the “War on Drugs” failed, and overflowing U.S. prisons is one of the biggest consequences.

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