Bernie Sanders' Claim About Americans In Jail During His Super Tuesday Speech Is So Sadly True
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders easily won his home state in Vermont's Democratic primary on Tuesday, part of the so-called Super Tuesday contests. Speaking to a room full of supporters in Essex Junction shortly after the polls closed, Sanders celebrated his state, his victory, and his priorities for the country. In doing so, he spoke on a topic he has raised before, but a statistic that seems no less dramatic no matter how many times you've heard it. Sanders claimed that the United States has more jailed persons than any other country on Earth — and, believe it or not, he's correct.
This country should not be having more people in jail than any other country on Earth. That's wrong.
No matter how wrong he thinks it is, Sanders is 100 percent right. According to the most recent numbers available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the U.S. has more than 2 million people in jails or prisons. The population of the world's prisons as a whole is only about nine million, meaning that the U.S. contributes more than 20 percent of the world's incarcerated persons. That's quite the reputation for one of the world's most democratic countries. It's also, as Sanders likes to point out, quite the bill for one country to foot.
Most of Sanders' platform would require the federal government to spend lots and lots and lots of money. It's one of the biggest criticisms he's faced in the race so far, actually — that the programs he's proposed, such as free college tuition, don't seem affordable for the country. Yet, in declaring his victory in Vermont on Tuesday, Sanders brought up one issue where he would like to see less spending: the country's prison system.
Back in October, Sanders spoke to a crowd at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, one of the many times he's brought up the U.S.'s incarceration rate. "And here’s the simple truth: It costs a hell of a lot more money to put somebody in jail than send them to the University of Virginia," Sanders said, bringing up another Virginia school just about 100 miles away. Although he's mostly right about that, Politifact showed that it wasn't necessarily that simple. Most inmates are in state or local prisons, where the cost of incarceration varies widely.
Even at its cheapest, though, the cost of incarcerating one person for an entire year is at least $14,000. Sanders is right that having 2 million in jails and prisons at any given time is a burden on the country's pursestrings. He's also right that the U.S. is throwing more people behind bars than any other country on Earth, despite only having the third highest population. His point seemed to resonate well in Vermont, but who knows if it will be enough, along with his larger platform, to carry him to the Democratic nomination.