The land of the free. The home of the brave. The leader in incarceration and in the top ten for executions.
A few weeks ago, shortly after taking power almost effortlessly after two decades of war against the most powerful military in the history of the world, the Taliban in Afghanistan announced their plans to reintroduce barbaric punishments such as the amputation of the hands of thieves, public hangings for blasphemy, and other less than modern approaches to criminal justice.
Americans expressed their shock and awe, this after twenty years of brutal occupation and mindless violence that they mostly ignored as an inconvenience or a political football. Meanwhile, we are one of the few industrialized countries
According to Amnesty International, the leading executioner of its own people is China, where records of executions remain a state secret. It’s estimate that thousands are executed every year. The next four countries account for over 85% of all executions in the word: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Egypt. Then you have the United States of America, the only country in all of the Americas that has executed anyone in over a decade, coming in at sixth. What an accomplishment. But never worry, right on our heels are the liberal bastions of Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.
There is little more absolute than the state taking your life, but it’s possible there are punishments worse than death. As of 2020, the US was imprisoning 2.3 million people in 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. This is an increase of over 500% over the last forty years.
We lead the world in incarcerations. We arrest more, jail more, and keep people in jail longer, despite the fact that it’s been proven to have little to no effect on crime prevention and does little to affect public safety. On the other hand, it’s decimated entire populations, culture and families.
The land of the free. The home of the brave. Think about that the next time you look down your nose at the apparent barbarism or savagery of their culture or criminal justice system. We are not the shining city on the hill that we think we are.