Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was harshly criticized Tuesday for claiming the U.S. has a “major under-incarceration problem,” despite the country’s alarmingly large prison population and world-leading rate of imprisonment.
“We have a major under-incarceration problem in America. And it’s only getting worse,” tweeted Cotton, citing a CNN article about rising crime in major U.S. cities throughout 2020. The article explores a 33% increase in homicides last year, which could be attributable to any number of combined factors, including the deadly global pandemic, a devastated economy, high unemployment, entrenched poverty, civil unrest, changes in policing and distrust of police, rising homelessness and surging gun sales.
But according to Cotton, the solution to all that is putting more people in jail. His idea angered critics, many of whom pointed to better uses of resources to reduce crime and cultivate healthy communities, and noted America’s problematic incarceration statistics.
America has the world’s highest incarceration rate, far ahead of other industrialized nations. In 2020, that metric stood at 655 prisoners per 100,000 people. The U.S. is followed by El Salvador, Turkmenistan and Thailand.
America’s high incarceration rates have also disproportionately affected minority populations. Black Americans are significantly over-represented in prison based on population. Latinx Americans also make up larger shares of the prison population compared with the U.S. population as a whole.
Cotton, a longtime ally of Donald Trump and a staunch conservative, has made his “under-incarceration” argument before. In 2016, he led the opposition to a bipartisan effort to implement sweeping criminal justice reforms.
His latest comments sparked immediate backlash online.
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