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There are over 1.5 million Americans in prison, a huge increase since 1980, when the prison population was 380,000 – and America incarcerates its citizens at a rate higher than any other country.

The conventional wisdom is that the ‘war on drugs’ is responsible for this increase, but John Pfaff of Fordham Law School believes that it arises from district attorneys drastically increasing the number of defendants they file charges against, perhaps for political reasons:

Maybe it’s that next election they’re looking at, that they remain tough on crime because they want to become attorney general or governor… What might have happened is the crime boom made being a prosecutor more of a launch-pad position — it elevated the status of prosecutors, and perhaps elevated their political ambitions, and they remained tough on crime even as crime started going down.

Interesting. From Slate.