Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Prison Nation

The opening paragraph to this New York Times article dropped my jaw:

"About one in every 31 adults in the United States was in prison, in jail or on supervised release at the end of last year, the Department of Justice reported yesterday."

More here

4.7% of American adults were in prison, jail, or supervised release at the end of last year.


The U.S. now leads the world in incarcerations per capita.


Here are some explorations to help realize the enormity of these numbers:

Fenway Park holds 38,805 people when sold out. 4.7% of 38,805 people is 1,823 people.

If one in 31 adults was in prison, in jail or on supervised release at the end of last year and you were at a party with 8 people in it the odds are 77% percent that one person does not belong to that group (assuming the party-goers represent a random cross-section of the population)

(30 / 31) ^ 8 = 77%

If the party has 16 people in it (about the size of a hockey team) the odds become 59%, and at two dozen people the odds are 45%.

A football team has 53 players (with 11 on the field). That's a 17.6% group.

The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental will now seat 467 people. That's a 0.00002% group.

Effusive thanks are extended to Roger, who was persuaded to de-dumb my probability efforts. You can read interesting analysis by Roger on the 2004 election:

Here and here.

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Foot Quotes

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge"

Charles Darwin