Friday, February 29

Follow up to my post US prison populations...

The Washington Post highlights the same comparison in the second paragraph of its story about the report, saying "the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second."

The source for the Chinese estimate is the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College in London, which in turn relied on the Chinese government's numbers. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by suggesting that we should be skeptical of anything a totalitarian-cum-authoritarian government says about touchy, potentially embarrassing issues like how many of its citizens it imprisons. The official number at the end of 2005 was 1,565,771, but the King's College report says that does not include "more than 500,000 serving administrative detention in re-education-through-labour camps," according to the Chinese government's own count; "350,000 in a second type of administrative detention...for drug offenders and prostitutes," according to a U.S. State Department estimate; or pre-trial detainees, whose number "is not known but has been estimated at about 100,000." Assuming those numbers are correct (a big assumption), "the total prison population in China is about 2,500,000." That still gives the U.S. a higher incarceration rate, but not a higher total number of prisoners. And if the Chinese government actually had a few million people in re-education camps, instead of the half a million it claims, how would we know?

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