Wednesday, January 5, 2011

US versus Dutch crime rates

Prison corridor with cells inside Alcatraz main building san francisco california
Home for almost 1% of the US population
Photo by Tim Pearce
Yesterday's "Hookers and Pot" post became the most popular post of the week in just a few hours. I suspect that's because it's the aspect of the Netherlands which most people are curious about and familiar with. However, I also suspect that it's part of the whole "how are things different?" aspect. It's worth noting, though, that Abigail posted some rather interesting commentary:
Note though that the overcapacity in prison is only very recent. It's only a few years ago criminals were send home early due to lack of prison space. It's not just a drop in crime rate (or rather, a drop in the number of convictions, which could have multiple reasons), it's also having build more prison cells than needed in the past decade. The call for more prison cells was drug related: there were so many drug runners flying into Amsterdam that many that were caught got a plane ticket home instead of being booked.
Being new to the Netherlands I didn't know this. Now according to many people, it's keeping more people in prison that reduces crime, so if we're sending people home early due to lack of prison space, then we clearly must have more crime, right? Naturally the situation isn't that simplistic, but I thought I'd do some digging.

For the following table, each statistic is per 100,000 people for the USA and the Netherlands.

United StatesNetherlands
Car thefts387.9233.6
Teen Suicide (15-24 years)13.76.8

Congratulations USA for totally kicking the Netherlands' tail in embezzlements.

If you keep digging, you find that the Netherlands still has a fair amount of crime, but not as much as the US and there's relatively little violent crime. In fact, I find that I can walk down the darkest alleys and streets late at night here in Amsterdam (the most "crime-ridden" city in the Netherlands) and I feel perfectly safe.

So how's incarcerating almost 1% of your citizens working out for you America?