Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton bizarrely claimed that the United States has an “under-incarceration” problem even though the country leads even the most brutal dictatorships with the highest rate of imprisonment in the world.
“We have a major under-incarceration problem in America. And it’s only getting worse,” Cotton tweeted on Tuesday, linking to a CNN article looking at potential factors behind the 33% rise in homicides last year.
Though Cotton suggests that the homicide increase is caused by a lack of incarceration, the article itself notes that “it’s impossible to attribute any single reason” to the rise, citing the pandemic, growing unemployment, civil unrest, issues around policing, and surging gun sales.
But Cotton’s claim has nothing to do with the pandemic violent crime surge that has puzzled experts. He made a similar argument that in 2016, arguing that many perpetrators are never identified or arrested.
US has highest incarceration rate in the world:
Cotton’s claim is curious given that the US has by far the highest rate of imprisonment in the world at 655 prisoners for every 100,000 residents, ahead of countries like El Salvador, Turkmenistan, and Thailand.
Arkansas has an even higher rate, with 900 prisoners for every 100,000 residents, behind five nearby southern states.
Black people who tend to get higher penalties for minor crimes make up a disproportionate number of US prisoners.
The US has over 2.3 million people in prison.
Cotton opposed criminal justice reform:
Cotton first made the statement in 2016 when he opposed a sweeping criminal justice reform, arguing that it was “baseless” to say too many people are locked up for minor crimes.
"Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: for the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and jailed," he said at the time. "Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem."