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  • America and China. The world's  two fastest-growing superpowers.  

  • First and third in population. Two of the  most powerful militaries in the world.  

  • As they jockey for influence around the worldthey frequently wind up on opposite sides. But  

  • they have one thing in common - they have two  of the largest prison systems in the world. If  

  • you commit a serious crime while in either of  their borders, you're going to have a bad time.

  • But what is prison like in China  compared to the United States?  

  • The two have many similarities, but in other  areas you might as well be on another planet.  

  • If you had to wind up in prison in  one of the world's two biggest powers,  

  • which one is your best bet to see  the other side of those gates again?

  • We'll start by looking at their prison  populations. The United States has the largest  

  • prison population in the world, and the highest  per-capita incarceration rate of any nation.  

  • They have a whopping 698 people locked up per  100,000, and in total over 2.2 million Americans  

  • are locked up. That's a lot of prisons across  the country, and they have another 4.7 million  

  • people on probation or on parole, meaning  they either did some time in prison or could  

  • go there for a probation violation. That's a  total of almost seven million people under the  

  • authority of criminal corrections - just under  three percent of the United States population.

  • China is the most populated country in the  world, with over 1.4 billion people - about  

  • 20% of everyone on the planet! So you'd  think they'd easily outstrip the United  

  • States in raw population in prison? WrongChina only has 1.65 million people in prison,  

  • for a population rate of 118 per 100,000. But this  is split between the Ministry of Public Security  

  • and the Ministry of Justice, and information on  Chinese prison populations is spotty. This prison  

  • population only covers those who went through the  criminal justice system and were convicted of a  

  • crime, not those detained by the state security  apparatus. It also doesn't count the million or  

  • so Uighur muslims imprisoned by China in state  re-education camps. In truth, China's real prison  

  • population is impossible to guess, and the  Chinese Communist Party likes it that way.

  • But what crimes are most likely to get  you sent to prison in these countries?

  • In the United States, it's like night and day when  you look at state and federal prisons. Under 10%  

  • of federal prisoners are incarcerated for violent  crimes, while most prisoners are incarcerated  

  • for financial crimes like tax fraud or organized  crime, or federal drug crimes. In state prisons,  

  • over 50% of all inmates are doing time for violent  offenses like armed robbery, assault, or murder,  

  • while 16% are there for drug crimes. This doesn't  necessarily mean the violent criminals are doing  

  • more time, though - mandatory sentences can result  in life sentences for even non-violent crimes.

  • China has two kinds of inmates in its prisonsJudicial detainees are those charged and convicted  

  • of serious crimes, with theft and fraud being the  most common charges. There are over two million  

  • charges for these crimes per year, compared to  less than 200,000 charges for violent crimes.  

  • But administrative detention is also commonand this is where the state security apparatus  

  • deems you to be a public danger. This  generally results in a shorter sentence,  

  • and includes addicts being sentenced  to imprisonment so they can be sent to  

  • rehabilitation - whether they want it or notAnd of course, anyone declared an enemy of the  

  • state can very quickly become a political prisoner  in the Chinese Communist Party's justice system.

  • What is likely to happen to you if you're charged  with a crime in the United States or China?

  • In America, that depends heavily on  what you're charged with - and how much  

  • money you have. When you're arrested  and charged, the prosecutor and your  

  • lawyer will make their cases for how much  freedom you're given while awaiting trial.  

  • You might be released on your own recognizance  for a more minor crime, or given the opportunity  

  • to post bail - a financial payment to the court  that's refunded once you return for trial. If  

  • you're accused of a serious crime and deemed to  be a danger or flight risk, though, the judge  

  • might order you held in jail until trial - which  can last a year or more in busy jurisdictions.

  • In China, there is much less uncertainty about  your fate when accused of a crime - virtually  

  • all Chinese accused are held in detention  until their trial. You'll be arrested at  

  • the start of the investigation, and be held  while the police work to prove your guilt.  

  • The local courts issue a detention orderand you'll be held in one of the facilities  

  • managed by the public security departmentsAnd don't think you'll be able to catch some  

  • naps while waiting for your day in courtpre-trial detention in China means you can  

  • expect frequent rough interrogations where  they try to get a confession out of you.

  • So you've been convicted of a crime and sentenced  to prison. What's your new home going to be like?

  • In the United States, it depends on what  you've been convicted of and how long your  

  • stay is going to be. If you're serving  less than a year, you might wind up in  

  • county corrections - the same place you likely  spent your pre-trial detention. But if you're  

  • serving a longer sentence, you're headed  for a state prison where conditions are  

  • typically stricter and the security is much more  intense. For the most dangerous criminals - both  

  • state and federal - Supermax prisons are  waiting, where inmates typically spend  

  • almost twenty-three hours a day in their cells  and are strictly segregated from each other.

  • In China, the focus of incarceration is differentWhile they do have standard prisons - including  

  • the notorious Qincheng maximum security prison  that was built with help from the Soviet Union and  

  • holds many political prisoners - Chinese prisons  often take the form of labor camps or farms.  

  • That means prisoners may be sent far away from  home, to work in notorious prison labor camps.  

  • So the location of your prison may be determined  less by where you committed your crime  

  • and more by where the government wants youin a rural area or near a center of industry.

  • You've got a long stay ahead  of you. How's the food?

  • In the United States, you'll find variety isn't a  problem for food - as long as you're nostalgic for  

  • those middle school cafeteria lunches. Some  prisons have communal eating for lower-risk  

  • prisoners, while other inmates in high-security  prisons eat in their cells. You can expect a  

  • lot of sandwiches and things that resemble TV  dinners, but the truth doesn't always live up  

  • to the advertising. Many prisons have their  food provided by private contractors, and  

  • the quality has decreased. Inmates often complain  of expired, spoiled, or chemically-treated food.  

  • This can cause outbreaks of illness, and  pest infestations have been reported.  

  • The only escape most inmates have from the dreary  lunch offerings is the prison commissary. If you  

  • earn money from working around the prison or have  someone on the outside willing to send you money,  

  • you can buy your favorite snacks  from the outside to eat in your cell.

  • It's a very different story in ChinaEnglish-language information on Chinese  

  • prison food is spotty, but several Americans  who spent time in Chinese prisons have given  

  • reports - and it's not pretty. Prisoners are  often given just enough food to give them the  

  • energy to keep working, and it's usually a meal  centered around rice - often with some turnips  

  • and a little pork fat on top. And don't think  about complaining - it's common for food rations  

  • to be cut as punishment in Chinese prisonswhich brings inmates back into line quickly.

  • You're going to have to keep busy somehowWhat kind of recreation is allowed?

  • American prisons often provide extensive  recreation options for their inmates.  

  • It's common for inmates to have access to  a library, limited computer privileges,  

  • and a rec room where they can watch some TVOutside, inmates can lift weights or play ball  

  • games. It's almost like gym class - except  for the armed guards. Some Inmates can take  

  • college classes, although this is rare due to  the programs being significantly underfunded,  

  • and some long-time inmates have become jailhouse  lawyers. This doesn't apply to supermax prisons,  

  • of course, where the options are a lot more  limited to whatever you can do in your cell.

  • If you're in a Chinese prison, don't expect to  have much time to think about recreation. You'll  

  • be kept busy with cell inspections, marchesand prison jobs. The goal of Chinese prisons  

  • is to instill order, and the day is run with  military precision. It's common for inmates to  

  • begin their days with chores, followed by chanting  communist slogans and repeating the rules of the  

  • prison. Then it's on to military-style marching  in place. It's like a very different gym class.  

  • Some inmates may get access to reading materialbut one thing both countries have in common is  

  • that it's likely any reading material could  be censored and have to be approved by prison  

  • authorities- although for completely different  reasons. In the US anything deemed to be violent  

  • or sexual will likely be prohibited for inmatesIn China anything that the government doesn't like  

  • or want you to know about gets censoredand that can include a lot of things. .

  • Uh-oh, looks like you stepped  out of line. What can you expect?

  • Punishments in prison aren't part of the  judicial system, but are administered by  

  • the Warden and guard. The most common punishment  is solitary confinement - also known as the hole.  

  • When you get sent to solitaryall privileges are taken away  

  • and you're isolated from all other inmatesLong-term solitary confinement can have a  

  • devastating mental-health impact that lasts  long after a person is released - from solitary,  

  • and from prison. Prison food can also be  used as a punishment - you won't starve,  

  • but many prisons have punishment meals including  the notorious nutriloaf - where all the essential  

  • components of a healthy diet are blended  and baked into a single dense food item  

  • that prisoners eat with their hands. Yum. While  those on-the-book prisons are feared by prisoners,  

  • the bigger fear may be prisoner abuseMany guards violate the prison policies  

  • and deal out their own beatings to prisoners who  they feel disrespect from or who break the rules,  

  • and it's hard for an inmate to report a guard  without opening themselves up to retaliation.

  • This applies to the 20% of inmates  who report sexual abuse as well.

  • Chinese prisons prize order above all, and  the slightest deviations from the norm are  

  • dealt with harshly. The mildest punishment  is the withholding of daily cigarettes - a  

  • rare privilege in the prison - but  guards are allowed to deal out much  

  • harsher measures. A slight slowdown or dirty  look can get you punched or kicked by a guard,  

  • and inmates who really raise the ire of the  authorities can find themselves on punishment  

  • detail or with reduced food rations - a serious  threat, given the meager food. The worst common  

  • punishment in Chinese prisons? Being shackled  to the wall, often for days to weeks at a time.

  • You're going to need to earn your keep. What's  the working life like in these two prison systems?

  • In the United States, prison labor is common  and inmates often find themselves working for  

  • the state. This used to be called a chain gangbut it's rarer to see restrained inmates working  

  • at the side of the road these days. Inmates  are still used commonly to pick up trash,  

  • but it's more common for third-party companies  to hire them. The company will contract with  

  • the state, and inmates will be put to work  in jobs like manufacturing or phone-banking.  

  • Most inmates do get paid for their prison labor  time, but they get paid a much lower rate than  

  • the minimum wage - often less than a dollar an  hour - which has led to criticism of the policy,  

  • with many calling it latter-day slaveryThe US' large prison population has led  

  • the US prison system to be the third  largest employer in the United States.

  • Prison labor is widespread in the United Statesbut it's part of the design of the system  

  • in China. Ever since the founding of the Chinese  Communist party, their criminal justice system  

  • has been governed by Laogai - a system using penal  labor and prison farms to reeducate their inmates.  

  • Originally this was so extensive as to  include anyone who committed minor offenses,  

  • but that was abolished. China keeps information  on its prison system close to its chest and  

  • journalists have been expelled from the  country for publishing it, but there are  

  • estimated to be over 500,000 people detained  on prison farms and labor camps around China.

  • But what fate awaits the worst  convicted criminals in the system?

  • Both China and the United States have the death  penalty, but the two systems are very different.  

  • The United States has the death penalty in  twenty-eight states plus the federal system,  

  • and currently has over 2,600 people on death  row. It's not easy to get sentenced to death  

  • in the United States, and almost all inmates are  murderers or convicted of serious federal crimes  

  • like treason. Once sentenced to death, it's rare  for an inmate to be executed quickly - they're  

  • entitled to years of appeals, going all  the way up to the Supreme Court before they  

  • meet the executioner. The most common methods of  execution are lethal injection and electric chair.

  • China has fewer prisoners than the United  States - but a lot of them don't stay for long.  

  • China's use of the death penalty is a state  secret, but it's believed that they used to  

  • execute up to 12,000 people each year. The  current estimate is about 2,400 a year.  

  • It's common for judges to dole out a death  sentence and then reprieve the inmate,  

  • as a warning of how close they came to deathBut for those who are sentenced to death? The  

  • execution comes quickly when approved by the  Supreme People's Court. Execution is done by  

  • lethal injection or firing squad, and is mostly  carried out for murder and drug trafficking.

  • Could you survive either of these prison systems?

  • For more on the harshest prisons in  the world, check outPrison Where  

  • Inmates Live in Coffins”. Or watch “50 Insane  Facts About Prison You Wouldn't Believe”  

  • for more on what the system has waiting for you.

America and China. The world's  two fastest-growing superpowers.  

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American Prison vs Chinese Prison - Which Is Actually Worse?

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/02/21
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