Victimless Crime Constitutes 86% of The Federal Prison Population

When we talk about the war on drugs, which is increasingly turning into a real war, we often overlook the fact that the “criminals” involved in the drug trade aren’t actually violating anyone’s rights.  When a drug dealer is hauled before a judge, there is no victim standing behind the prosecutor claiming damages.  Everyone participating in the drug trade does so voluntarily. However, there are a lot more crimes for which this is also true.  Millions upon millions of Americans have been thrown into cages without a victim ever claiming damages.  It is important to look at the burden this mass level of incarceration places upon our society.

In light of that, let us review some statistics which demonstrate just how destructive the mass incarceration of victimless criminals has become to our society. The 2011 federal prison population consisted of:

  • Drugs 50.7%
  • Public-order 35.0%,
  • Violent 7.9%
  • Property 5.8%
  • Other .7%

Drug offenses are self-explanatory as being victimless, but so too are public-order offenses, which also fall under the victimless crimes category.  Public order offenses include such things as immigration, weapons charges, public drunkenness, selling lemonade without a licensedancing in publicfeeding the homeless without a permit etc..

The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world.  Presently 756 per 100,000 of the national population is behind bars.  This is in contrast to an average world per-capita prison population rate  of 145 per 100,000 (158 per 100,000 if set against a world prison population of 10.65 million), based on 2008 U.N. population data.  In other words, the U.S. incarcerates its citizens at a rate that is 5 times the world average.

In 2008, according to the Department of Justice, there were 7,308,200 persons in the US corrections system, of whom 4,270,917 were on probation, 828,169 were on parole, 785,556 were in jails, and 1,518,559 were in state and federal prisons.  This means that the U.S. alone is responsible for holding roughly 15% of all the prisoners in the world.

In other words, 1 in 42 Americans is under correctional supervision.  This constitutes over 2% of the entire U.S. population.  That percentage jumps up drastically if we limit the comparison to working aged adult males, of which there are around 100 million.  Over 5% of the adult male population is under some form of correctional supervision, alternatively stated, 1 in 20 adult males are under correctional supervision in the U.S.

According to 2006 statistics, 1 in 36 adult Hispanic men are behind bars, as are 1 in 15 adult black men.  If we limit the data to black males between the ages 20 to 34, 1 in 9 are behind bars.  Keep in mind that 86% of those men in federal prisons are there for victimless crimes.  They have not stolen any property, damaged any property or harmed anyone directly by their actions.  Of course, if you are reading this and live in the US, you are paying for all those people to subsist on a daily basis.  Roughly 34% of all prisoners in the U.S. are incarcerated for victimless crimes.

In California in 2009 it cost an average of $47,102 a year to incarcerate an inmate in state prison.  In 2005 it cost an average of $23,876 per state prisoner nationally.  In 2007, $228 billion was spent on police, corrections and the judiciary.  That constitutes around 1.6% of total U.S. GDP.

Of course, being the good economists that we are, we must not just look at the cost to incarcerate and police, but also at the opportunity cost to society that putting all those able-bodied men behind bars creates.  When a man is put behind bars he is obviously incapable of contributing anything to society.  He becomes a complete burden to society while producing nothing in return for the expenses he creates.  He becomes a black void of resource destruction.  It’s important to remember that money’s value is directly related to the consumer goods that a society produces.  If a society produces nothing of value, the money it uses will also be worth nothing of value. If a huge portion of able bodied workers is locked behind bars, society is effectively penalized twice – once for the resources that are diverted into the prison industry and it is penalized again for the opportunity cost of the lost labor of those prisoners.

I find some dark humor in the fact that those who engage in victimless crime don’t create any real victims until they are put behind bars, at which point they cause the State to steal $47,000 a year from the tax paying public.  In our justice system today, victims are victimized twice;  once by the perpetrator of the crime against them, and the other by the State which then forces the victim to pay for the punishment of their assailant.  Clearly our society’s notion of “justice” is logically ridiculous.  It’s apparently not OK for someone to steal from you, but its perfectly acceptable for the State to steal from you if the State is going to use that money to punish the person who stole from you. – what kind of asinine system of justice is that?

What is justice?  Isn’t justice making a victim whole once again?  Isn’t justice punishing a criminal for the damages he imposed upon his victims? I propose that the only real justice that can be enacted in a free society is monetary punishment in the form of taking the perpetrators property and handing it to their victim, or ostracism by defamation of character.

I know some people will cry that under such a system violent criminals will be left free to roam the streets, but isn’t that what our system is doing now?  Consider that if a man commits a violent crime today, he is put behind bars for some arbitrary length of time with hundreds of other violent criminals, after which he is released back on to the streets.  Do you think that criminal is going to be more dangerous to society after spending years locked in a cage with other violent criminals or less dangerous?  Numerous studies show that prison either increases, or has no impact on, recidivism.  Thus, it all comes down to punishment.  Isn’t being branded a criminal, along with monetary  punishment to make a victim whole once again, enough?  How difficult do you think your life would be if you were convicted of murder, everyone knew about it and half your assets and income were being handed to your victim’s family?  The rest of your life would be a living hell.

Putting people behind bars does nothing but squander resources.  It deprives society of able-bodied workers and costs society massive amounts of resources which are stolen from the general public through the coercive theft of taxation.  Consider how much richer American society would be today if it had an additional 5% of the male population working to produce goods and services in the private sector labor force.

Economist David Friedman has put together a fantastic presentation on how society could be organized in such a way as to eliminate all victimless crime while simultaneously eliminating the necessity of the State to steal from the victims of crimes to pay for their assailants punishment.  After you’re done watching Friedman’s presentation, check out this fantastic comic put together by the Real Cost of Prisons project.

If you are interested in learning more about private law and private defense, listen to this series of essays by economist Robert Murphy and this lecture by economist Hans Hoppe.

 

The statistics cited in this article can be verified at Drug War Facts.org

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  • Luc

    Ever heard of people having kids to create dependency for leveraging for more plunder? That’s the prison system in a nut shell, same principle.

    So think of convicts as the children of the State!

  • Luc

    Ever heard of people having kids to create dependency for leveraging for more plunder? That’s the prison system in a nut shell, same principle.

    So think of convicts as the children of the State!

  • Barbtempeaz

    I would add to the cost of prison in society those costs involved in helping the prisoner’s family survive legal expenses, financially, emotionally without them during the prison term and then the longer term personal and societal consequences to the children growing up with the stigma of a parent in prison….;

    • Guest

      if you have been to prison, the real punishment begins after release… the disenfranchisement… it has a negative effect and stimulates recidivism… some people like this… others thrive… some crimes are unforgivable but most people can’t distinguish and insurance companies set the rules for private sector business… so there you have it… if you understand this, then you know what this means… 

    • Anonymous

      Exactly. The Welfare State didn’t destroy our innercities, the War on Drugs did – welfare spending on families remained flat until the War started, at which point it exploded and rose in lockstep with our disproportionately black male prison population.

      http://tremblethedevil.com/?p=1693

  • Stefan Molyneux

    horrendous, thanks for putting this info together…

  • Stefan Molyneux

    horrendous, thanks for posting!

  • http://twitter.com/mz_az Diana Pawelski

    Child molesters, rapists, and murders get out of prison. Someone caught with a little pot goes to prison. A woman has a garden of veggies in her front yard, gets arrested and had to go to court. Tax payers money spent on the courts. Thanks to petitions.com they finally dropped the charges.  Makes sense to me.

  • Steven Haynes

    I agree with this for the most part except for the whole bullet to the head comment. I do not believe in the death penalty as punishment for a crime. If you killed everyone that committed a victimless crime, for example, then you’re still robbing society of an able bodied worker.

    • http://www.libertariannews.org/ Michael Suede

      I’m against the death penalty too, I was just throwing it out there as an example of a punishment that doesn’t victimize the victim through theft.

      But you are absolutely right that it deprives society of a worker.

      • gendi2545

        As well as killing someone of course.

    • Jamesd0420

      whos going to execute someone for a victimless crime? that doesnt make sense. personally, im an ex convict. and i did my time, got out, worked my ass off to build a life that would make my parents proud. and from personal know, MOST people serving life sentences should be dead. period. the cost to keep them housed is stupid. and its more cost later on when they get old and go on meds. its an ultra-corrupt system that has lost control of its jurisdiction in protecting society.

      • http://twitter.com/isfturtle Ilona Fleischer

        The cost of appeals in death penalty cases is actually much higher than the cost of life in prison. Not to mention the possibility of executing an innocent.

        I commend you for rebuilding your life after prison. However, surely you know that many people who get out of prison do not act as responsibly as you and go on to re-offend. The prison system really needs to be reformed; it needs to concentrate more on rehabilitation than punishment.

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  • Iceman

    Thank you for this article!

  • centristcrusader

    Interesting how one of the most free market nations in the world has the highest prison population. In ‘socialist’ Britain where we have more of a mixed economy there are fewer murders. Funny huh?

    • http://www.libertariannews.org/ Michael Suede

      We rank lower than Hong Kong on the free market index and Hong Kong has a far lower rate of incarceration than the US.

    • Wesclox

      Free market? How much red tape must you cut through to open a business in this country?

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  • alaskanmalamuteireland

    Hi ! Thank you for this
    information.
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  • http://twitter.com/isfturtle Ilona Fleischer

    While this is troubling, I would point out a few things:
    1) This is only for federal prisons. How do state prison populations compare?
    2) Are all the crimes that you’ve categorized as “victimless” really “victimless?” I can think of several things that would possibly fall under “public order” that could have a victim. And how would a DUI be categorized? Because that has a victim, or at least a very real potential to have one or several.

    • Wesclox

      I agree that DUI’s DO put other people in harm’s way. But, the act of being drunk itself does not. Because one person might make stupid decisions while they are drunk shouldn’t make them a criminal, it should make them a patient. If a person decides to continually slam their head into a wall we send them to a doctor, not a prison. Both are stupid acts that fall into a similar category, though the prior has potentially greater consequence. BTW, I highly commend you for your stance on wrongful incarceration and I too am against the death penalty for I understand that our legal system is run by imperfect people who are a social animals with a need for acceptance among peers, from the bottom to the top.

  • Skatergothic_Babe_2

    I personally think that our government is messed up. I believe and support the prisons but I do not agree with the fact that there are more men and woman serving time in our countries jails for victimless crimes. There are men and woman being released from jail for sever crimes like rape, murder…ect and there are men and woman that are having to serve time for drug possession, violation of probation..ect. When will our government decide its time to find alternative solutions, like drug rehabilitation centers, house arrest you name it. We have so many people complaining that our prisons and jails are over populated…lets make the change. One voice matters, and you can be that one voice.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BMLA5QUI7JXLWI7SCWS5BKKTSQ Gerald

      It will NEVER change. People are too ignorant, selfish, or both. As long as it’s not affecting them directly, they don’t care. American citizens have a peaceful & legal means to nullify tyrannical drug laws & even end the “War on Drugs” (which was already lost at inception). I have 2 words. “Jury Nullification”. It is an option that is freely legal to the American people. It is more powerful than the constitution, congress, or even the president. For reasons unknown….we do not deploy/take advantage of it.

  • jon pankowski

    When George W Bush and all thoses that invaded Iraq on knowing that they did it on false information they committed CONSPERICEY TO COMIT FRAUD. This is far worse an offeance than 99.9 of all the prison inmates. For this I will never salute the flag untill the real TREASONUS TRATORS are tryed for Treason.Also there example has DESRORED the so call
    gready corporite/prison LAW syistem that used belonged to the comones of America. Perhapes it is time for the wourld to invade America and restore Democrocey from the tyrants that hold the money to make the laws there way.

    • Jamester III OATHKEEPER

      “For this I will never salute the flag”…….REALLY?! SERIOUSLEY?!

      That’s pretty Un-Patriotic, as well, as Un-American, But I suppose you do have that right to be as ungrateful, and as disrespectful as you want to be.

      I myself Hate our current members of government with a PASSION, and would not piss on them if they were all running thru hell in a pair of gasoline drawers, BUT, I LOVE My Country and Respect our Flag. Too many Americans sacrificed EVERYTHING that they owned up to and including their Lives for “The Flag”. I Salute out of RESPECT, not because of some POS in DC. I raised my hand and took The Oath “for LIFE” and would lay it down this very minute if called to do so, I am DAMN PROUD to BE an AMERICAN, and grateful To be a Citizen, as well as, THANKFUL AND RESPECTFUL for and To ALL who, Just as I Have, Served this GREAT COUNTRY and forever indebted to the ones who gave ALL!

      “Though I disagree with what you say, I shall defend To The Death, Your Right to say it”
      ~VOLTAIRE

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  • Renji

    “Keep in mind that 86% of those men in federal prisons are there for victimless crimes. ” and ” Roughly 34% of all prisoners in the US are incarcerated for victimless crimes.” Which one of those statements is actually true???

    • http://www.libertariannews.org/ Michael Suede

      They both are. 

      Note “FEDERAL” vs. “ALL”

      ALL as in COUNTY, STATE, AND FEDERAL.

      FEDERAL as in NOT COUNTY or STATE

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  • Bkeoughteacher

    victimless crimes are not crimes.  The only crime in a victimless crime is Judicial crime.  The government has no right to impose morality.  Crime in a free society should only consist of infringing on anothers rights,  When a society punishes a person for personal choice, freedom does not truly exist. 

    • 76

      America hasn’t been free since 1921.
      Do you people have any understanding of whats taking place in your nation.

      I know it sounds dramatic but America is following the exact same steps as Stalins Soviet Union, Hitlers Germany, Mussolini Italy etc etc… scary thing is its not one man but a system you sheeple have let happen… sad and kind of pathetic.

  • chad

    private prisons…nuff said

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BMLA5QUI7JXLWI7SCWS5BKKTSQ Gerald

      We need to declare war on the war on drugs & on for profit prisons.

  • chad

     theirs too much money involved in prisons now……wonder why congress keeps making stupid as laws and people put in prison or jail for bullshit, they got their cut…

  • infoservinc

    I know first hand just how our prison system and Justice System works.  I spent 20 months in a
    federal Prison for a “crime” that has been happening for 100 years or more.  I was the President of a Bank and made loans to a Business that decided to default.  So in spite of the fact that I had never been in any trouble in my life.  In spite of the fact that I was a member of 14 Charitable organization Boards and spent countless hours helping others, I went to prison.

    I saw first hand how many were incarcerated that could have been dealt with more responsibly.  The prison system as a whole is a huge business and makes many people wealthy at the expense of, not only the general population but those that are the “Assets” of the system.

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  • Michael

    When a drug dealer sells a highly addictive substance to a minor, there’s no victim? This whole article is flawed. Most violent crimes are punishable under state, not federal law. What about insider trading – is that victimless?

    • Neutroncapture

      So when a minor get’s their hands on some cigs, what do we do?

  • Claytonsrobinson

    get your head out of the sand!  surely you’re not as stupid as this makes you sound.

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  • Tim Mead

    Selling or taking drugs is not a “victim – less” crime. It destroys lives. Violence also destroys lives. I suppose that you think it is alright to have a country where anyone can walk to anyone else and kill them, and that is alright. Or in the course of a crime, that is alright too? You are stupid.

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  • Hans Delbrucke

    Victimless crimes? Really? What about the skyrocketing murder rate in Mexico? The drug trafficking there is killing thousands, including several of our border agents. This idiotic premise can on come from a rag like the libs. Get your head out of the sand, people, you or your family may be a victim of a druggie who ruins your life as he tries to feed his habit.

    • http://www.libertariannews.org/ Michael Suede

      It sounds like you are afraid of turning into a druggie if drugs are legalized.

    • http://www.facebook.com/StephenWHall Stephen Hall

      The reason for all the killing in Mexico is directly attributable to the War on Drugs. Because they are illegal, those trafficking in drugs are required to be ruthless in order to be in business. For an apt analogy, I only need to point to the rise of organized crime in America in the 1920s with Prohibition. Were drugs to be legalized, violence would be much less necessary for suppliers to get product in place to meet the demands of the market. Simultaneously, prices would go down due to a removed risk to the suppliers because the need to make a lot of profit quickly in a dangerous situation would be gone.

      On the social side, legalization of drugs would also likely result in more addicts seeking treatment, as the fear of prosecution and imprisonment would be gone.

      Instead of criminalizing drugs, society would be much better served by criminalizing the unwanted behaviors associated with drug use, as has been done with DUI laws over the years.

    • Love4ourHumans

      Victimless crime means that the illegal behavior does not directly violate or threaten the rights of any other individual, Period! The phenomenon that “it may happen to you” (used before false flags to prep the people into accepting unconstitutional laws) should never be use.

      The war on drug has failed miserable! Just like the alcohol prohibition back then. Look up the top 5 organizations that had continued to push for tougher laws against victimless crimes (drug related and others). Then look up private correctional facilities and tell me what they all have in common.

      Oh, Fast and Furious is what helped the skyrocketing murder rate in Mexico. You may want to look that one up too.

  • Zoe

    Amazing article. Wonderfully written.

  • StatesNewman

    Child pornography falls under “public order” crimes. I’m not sure of the percentage of the federal prison population is in for kiddie porn, but I heard it was substantial. Just pointing out that not all public order crimes are victimless.

    • http://www.libertariannews.org/ Michael Suede

      The viewing of child porn is actually a victimless crime, which is what most people are busted for. On the other hand, the production of child porn is not. People who are busted for child porn production are typically busted on lewd acts or rape of a child, which is a different animal.

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  • Drew

    This is a good article and I agree with most of what you’re saying here, but some of your numbers are highly contradictory.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BMLA5QUI7JXLWI7SCWS5BKKTSQ Gerald

    America’s industrial/manufacturing base is dying a slow & agonizing death. As a substitute we have the military industrial & more recently the prison industrial complex. The later can survive only via a never ending supply of tax dollars & “prison fodder”. There are certain politicians who actually believe that “prison” is w way out of recession. Hiring more prison guards, parole officers, police, lawyers, building new prisons (construction job), collecting fines, etc, all decreases unemployment. That is just “make work”. Using/wasting our taxes to to fund the prison industrial complex is just giving people work, for work’s sake. It doesn’t accomplish anything, other than misdirecting much needed funds & creating a police state. We have the means & the power defeat the prison industrial complex via “jury nullification”. People should be educated about it. The war on drugs is a crime against humanity, and act of terrorism and a war against the American people. If a coalition/political party was formed for the purpose of automatically finding innocent any “drug offender” (when members are assigned to jury duty), we could peacefully win the war on drugs.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/russell.haney.1 Russell Haney

    wow even after a year this article is still being pushed by this rag. So which of you superior intellects wants to visit the hospital of the baby born to a mom on drugs? Or the family at the grave of the kid killed by drug violence? But what’s the harm of watching some child porn, right? After all just because your money you paid for the privilege of seeing it didn’t really finance the next episode did it? And we all know if we stopped putting drunk drivers behind bars they would sober up before they kill your cousin, right?

    So let’s all get together and go to one of you honorable people house and pee in the yard for a few weeks. After all grass ain’t a real people are it?

    Oh and what happens when your 17 year old daughter gets knocked up by the man of her dreams, a 50 year old father of 10 kids? She signed the consent form didn’t she?

    All these are victimless crimes by someone’s definition. So where is the harm?

    I say all drugs are bad. You say I am a prude. You say ‘soft drugs’ like marijuana are Ok by meth is bad. Your aunt betsy says you are the prude. So who gets to make the call????

    If I kill a guy who has cancer is that not a victimless crime? He was going to die anyway and now that he’s dead how can he be a victim? He don’t care no more!

    Most of you people are just a bunch of NIMBY’s. But watch what happens when your BY is invaded. If you own two TV’s and one is stolen is that not a victimless crime? You can only watch one at a time so therefor you are being selfish to own more than what you need and it is the right of those without to get their fair share. So now we can let all the robbers out of jail also. Not to mention bank robbers get out also since your money was protected by the federal insurance program. So who was the victim?
    Libertarians are like lambs in a cage. You rant at the shepard for making you stay there and tell him to open the gate and let you come and go as you want. But then when the wolf comes you cry like babies wanting him to come back and save you. Not the others just you.

    • http://www.libertariannews.org/ Michael Suede

      Nice troll.

      I appreciate the effort you put into it.

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  • Anon

    Ah, but you missed something. The STATE is the victim of drug offenses. A local judge I practice in front of will not accept any plea agreement unless the victim agrees with the plea agreement. The Judge considers the arresting officer to be the victim in a drug crime.

    In fact, the State is considered the victim in all crimes – you’ll note that the caption of criminal cases is “State v. Smith”, not “Victim Name v. Smith”.

    Ridiculous, but the State has to come up with something to justify its behavior.

    • http://www.libertariannews.org/ Michael Suede

      Of course the state considers itself to be a victim, which is logically preposterous.

      The state doesn’t have legitimate standing to claim itself as a victim. The state can only get away with making such proclamations because it has the guns to impose itself through threat of force. In a private court, an unrelated third party claiming damages would be laughed right out of the courtroom. It is incumbent upon the victim to prove damages.

  • new york dui lawyer

    The main reason for the many killing in Mexico is straight attributable for the War on Medications. Mainly because they are illegal, those people trafficking in medicines are needed to be ruthless so as to be in organization. For an apt analogy, I only should issue on the rise of arranged criminal offense in america during the nineteen twenties with Prohibition. Had been medications to become legalized, violence could well be much less needed for suppliers to receive product set up to meet the needs in the market place. At the same time, costs would go down as a result of a taken off hazard into the suppliers since the need to make a ton of gain promptly in a very hazardous scenario might be absent.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508321931 Megan Thompson

    Great article. Very well done.

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  • Tom

    Sadly, your source for numbers are wrong. According to the Bureau of Statistics population counts in 2009 16.9% were incarcerated for drug offenses and 5.2% for public order. 22.1% – still way more than it should be – but a far cry from your quoted 86%!

    • Tom

      The link to the data is here:

      http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fjs09st.pdf

      • http://www.libertariannews.org/ Michael Suede

        You’re looking at the wrong data section. Look on page 15 of the report you just linked. You’ll see my numbers are accurate.

        The statistic you are citing is for “Suspects in matters concluded by U.S. attorneys” – Which has nothing to do with federal incarceration.

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  • bryan whyte

    Justice is a perpetual money making machine where it has gotten so bad that even thinking or planning to commit a crime can put you in jail. The movie Minority Report warned us of a similar scenario.

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  • Black-Irish

    This should be the biggest story for Black History Month: Slavery has not ended. African American’s ancestors committed the victimless crime of being bought in Africa, of being sold in America, then after the 13th Amendment (“…except for the punishment of a crime…”), of not having a job under vagrancy laws in the United States in general but the South in particular, and then of committing the victimless crime of drug use or possession. Slavery is alive and well in the United States.

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