One of the twelve Republican senators who voted against the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill has long been against making positive changes to the system, going so far as to claim in 2016 that the U.S. has an “under-incarceration problem”.
But Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton could not be more wrong: the United States imprisons more of its people than any other country in the world, by a long shot.
The senator has long opposed criminal justice reform. He’s argued that America has an “under-incarceration problem,” even though the US has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world. From his view, stiffer prison penalties deter crime, keeping Americans safe.
But is Cotton’s view accurate?
This goes against the empirical evidence on the topic, which has consistently found that more incarceration and longer prison sentences do little to combat crime. A 2015 review of the research by the Brennan Center for Justice estimated that more incarceration — and its abilities to incapacitate or deter criminals — explained about zero to 7 percent of the crime drop since the 1990s, though other researchers estimate it drove 10 to 25 percent of the crime drop since the ’90s.
Another huge review of the research, released last year by David Roodman of the Open Philanthropy Project, found that releasing people from prison earlier doesn’t lead to more crime, and that holding people in prison longer may actually increase crime.
Cotton would serve his own constituents well to reconsider his position in light of the data: Arkansas consistently has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, even surpassing the U.S. as a whole.
According to a June 2018 Prison Policy Initiative report, Arkansas ranks number six out of all the states, locking up 900 people for every 100,000 residents.
By comparison, the U.S. rate is 698 inmates per 100,000 people.