Michael Teague asks why UK penal policy is so influenced by the American experience.

‘Our Europe-leading imprisonment rate appears positively puny compared to the USA’s muscular embrace of mass incarceration. If England and Wales had exactly same proportional rate of imprisonment as the USA, we would have the staggering total of 415,569 people behind bars today.’

‘The country’s 5000 plus state and federal prisons and local jails incarcerate a staggering total of almost 2.3 million citizens. Put another way, America locks up no fewer than one in 100 of its adult citizens. With an imprisonment rate (depending on how you measure it) of up to ten times greater than other western parliamentary democracies, the USA’s mass incarceration machine has achieved the dubious accolade of the highest per capita rate of imprisonment in the world.’

‘We need to think deeply about our increasing prison population in England and Wales. Do we plan to emulate the US system of mass incarceration? We already have a world-leading probation service which can change people’s lives. It makes social and fiscal sense to keep people in the community unless they present a serious risk to public safety. The American model provides clear evidence that incarceration on an industrial scale is incredibly wasteful, both in human and in financial terms.’

Michael Teague is a criminologist at Teesside University, where he teaches a course in American Criminal Justice. You can read his essay HERE.

Author: Jon Robins

Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon’s books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council’s journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year’s Criminal Justice Alliance’s journalism award

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