Document Type


Publication Title

Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law



Publication Date



Prisons, Crime, Incarceration, Prosecutors


For over a decade, my research has focused on trying to answer one simple question: how did the United States, home to about 5% of the world’s population, come to house nearly 25% of its prisoners?1 We were not always the world’s largest jailer; as recently as the 1970s, our incarceration rate was largely indistinguishable from those in other liberal democracies. Yet starting in the mid-1970s, as Figure 1 shows, that rate started to slowly—but steadily and relentlessly—grow, until by the late 2000s it rivaled and then surpassed even the rates seen in autocratic countries like Cuba and Belarus and Russia (as we see in Figure 2). No one nation has an incarceration rate as high as ours, and the rates in Europe are on the order of one tenth the magnitude. It is American exceptionalism at its worst.

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Criminal Law Commons