In Russia in 1996, 694 people per 100,000 were in prison (compared with, for example, 75 in Belgium). In the USA, which is second after Russia in terms of rate of imprisonment, it was reported that in 1998, one in 163 Americans was in prison (triple the number in 1980) and six times the average in Europe. In the USA, blacks are the subject of disproportionately high rates of imprisonment.
High levels of imprisonment have been common in history. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the UK operated a system of severely punitive punishment laws designed to provide cheap labour for its colonies, notably America. People were apprehended on suspicion alone and shipped off to the colonies, with the blessing of a magistrate, where they were resold as labourers to the highest bidder. A prison crisis in the UK was even created at the time of the American revolution when such shipments were disrupted.