New Mexico’s Rate of Imprisonment is 19th in the World

A new report shows that New Mexico imprisons people at a higher rate than most U.S. states and every other country in the world, and there is little correlation between high incarceration rates and violent crime.

The Prison Policy Initiative found that New Mexico incarcerates 773 people per 100,000 total population, and if one imagines the state as an independent country, it would have the 19th highest per capita incarceration rate in the world.

“The incarceration rates in every U.S. state are out of line with the entire world, and we found that this disparity is not explainable by differences in crime or ‘violent crime,’ ” the researchers wrote. “In fact, there is little correlation between high rates of ‘violent crime’ and the rate at which the U.S. states lock people up in prisons and jails.”

“Compared to our allies around the world, compared to other major democracies, the United States and every U.S. state is completely unparalleled when it comes to our rates of incarceration,” said Wanda Bertram, a communications strategist for the Prison Policy Initiative.

The researchers collected prison data from every level of the criminal legal system including state prisons, local jails, people held by the U.S. Marshals Service, people detained for immigration offenses, sex offenders indefinitely detained or committed in “civil commitment centers” after completing a sentence, and those committed to psychiatric hospitals as a result of criminal charges or convictions.

“Our new analysis of incarceration rates and crime rates across the world reveals that the U.S.’s high incarceration rates are not a rational response to high crime rate, but rather a politically expedient response to public fears and perceptions about crime and violence,” the researchers wrote.

The study was cited in Source NM, an independent, nonprofit news organization. For a complete analysis of sources of the prison population problem in New Mexico, see Source NM is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers.