Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was harshly criticized Tuesday for claiming the U.S. has a “major under-incarceration problem,” despite the country’s alarmingly large prison population and world-leading rate of imprisonment.
“We have a major under-incarceration problem in America. And it’s only getting worse,” tweeted Cotton, citing a CNN article about rising crime in major U.S. cities throughout 2020. The article explores a 33% increase in homicides last year, which could be attributable to any number of combined factors, including the deadly global pandemic, a devastated economy, high unemployment, entrenched poverty, civil unrest, changes in policing and distrust of police, rising homelessness and surging gun sales.
But according to Cotton, the solution to all that is putting more people in jail. His idea angered critics, many of whom pointed to better uses of resources to reduce crime and cultivate healthy communities, and noted America’s problematic incarceration statistics.
America has the world’s highest incarceration rate, far ahead of other industrialized nations. In 2020, that metric stood at 655 prisoners per 100,000 people. The U.S. is followed by El Salvador, Turkmenistan and Thailand.
America’s high incarceration rates have also disproportionately affected minority populations. Black Americans are significantly over-represented in prison based on population. Latinx Americans also make up larger shares of the prison population compared with the U.S. population as a whole.
Cotton, a longtime ally of Donald Trump and a staunch conservative, has made his “under-incarceration” argument before. In 2016, he led the opposition to a bipartisan effort to implement sweeping criminal justice reforms.
His latest comments sparked immediate backlash online.
America has 25% of the world’s prisoners, but only 5% of the world’s population. https://t.co/brCSHwmLgZ
— Max Berger (@maxberger) April 7, 2021
remembering when someone said Tom Cotton was as close as the simulation could get to naming a senator Jim Crow without collapsing in on itself https://t.co/P6JRxqLFcX
— Gina (@gina_scooter) April 6, 2021
The only “under-incarcerated” in America are GOP traitors like Tom Cotton, who should be in prison right now.
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) April 6, 2021
Fixed it for you. pic.twitter.com/TfHaYwEF3N
— Don Moynihan (@donmoyn) April 6, 2021
Man, what? We have 4% of the world population and over 20% of its prisoners. We also have the highest incarceration rate and the worst recidivism.Maybe stop using corrections and policing as punishment and start pumping that money into rehabilitation, for people and community.
— Sara from Michigan (@SarafromMI) April 6, 2021
Worth noting that Tom Cotton's Arkansas itself has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the entire WORLD. pic.twitter.com/LSO3n52dPf
— T-Bone Slim (@TBoneSlimIWW) April 6, 2021
CNN: “Its impossible to attribute any single reason.”Bootlicking elitist treason-weasel Tom Cotton: “We haven’t made enough people felons who will struggle to earn a livable wage for the rest of their lives.” pic.twitter.com/fmhKh4YnZY
— Michael Drake (@mikedrake178) April 6, 2021
Tom Cotton calls for Matt Gaetz and the January 6 attackers to do hard time! https://t.co/aGvUIOdQZB
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) April 6, 2021
Tom Cotton has bad opinions and is a bad person. https://t.co/KrPL65TAYR
— Eliza Orlins (@elizaorlins) April 6, 2021
We're #1 in the world for incarceration per Capita, and that's not good enough for him?