By Joshua Holland
The United States has about five percent of the world’s population and houses around 25 percent of its prisoners. In large part, that’s the result of the “war on drugs” and long mandatory minimum sentences, but it also reflects America’s tendency to criminalize acts that other countries view as civil violations.
In 2010, The Economist highlighted a case in which four Americans were arrested for importing lobster tails in plastic bags rather than in cardboard boxes. That violated a Honduran law which that country no longer enforces, but because it’s still on the books there its enforced here. “The lobstermen had no idea they were breaking the law. Yet three of them got eight years apiece.” When the article was published 10 years later, two of them were still behind bars.
A UN report noted that Alabama officials had arrested dozens of people who were too poor to repair septic systems that violated state health laws. In one case, authorities took steps to arrest a 27-year-old single mother living in a mobile home with her autistic child for the same “crime.” Replacing the system would have cost more than her $12,000 annual income, according to the report.