The USA has 3 times as many criminal offences as the UK

I was staggered yesterday to learn that according to a 2008 study by retired Louisiana State University law professor John Baker, the USA has an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes. But I was only really surprised because I had only just found out that the UK has precisiely  1,455 – 3 times less. We’ll be producing a separate page of all UK criminal offences for you shortly.


Comparing crime and punishment between nations is always very difficult.  Many of us have heard a lot about the difference respective sizes of the prison populations in the UK and USA – 85,000 v. 2.2 million (according to this wiki) which even adjusted for populations of 62 and 307 million is a huge difference. Are we Brits ready to have 5 times as many prisoners as we do now and so be like America?


But here’s the beef: do we want that many lawyers as well?


It says something about how the reach of the law has become so pervasive in America that they don’t know quite how many crimes are on the federal statutes whereas we at least still do. Unkind observers would be tempted to conclude that in the USA, the lawyers really have taken over !


According to the same article, a major reason for the growth of these criminal statutes are;


lawmakers responding to hot-button issues—environmental messes, financial machinations, child kidnappings, consumer protection—with calls for federal criminal penalties. Federal regulations can also carry the force of federal criminal law, adding to the legal complexity


For all that, I’m not trying to grandstand here and say Britain and its boys in blue lead the world etc.  Far from it. No one in Brtain for example, has a clue how many regulations are in force today and precisely how many originate from Brussels and nor is there any proper cost benefit analysis, just a sort of regulatory impact assessment.


In fact, I think there’s actually a great deal we could import and learn from America’s crimefighters.  Starting with Bill Bratton, which just might be on the cards . . .

2 thoughts on “The USA has 3 times as many criminal offences as the UK

  1. Sorry this is fundamentally flawed – the 1455 you refer to are those offences deemed to be triable at crown court – i e before judge and jury. There are about another 1800 that are triable by magistrates so the total is nearer 3300 – don’t forget as well that in the US there are state as well as federal laws so the total is higher

  2. Thanks for this Fred, if I’m wrong I’m wrong – comments are always welcome. But the 1,455 I refer to are the 1,455 given to us on a spreadsheet by the NPIA all of which fall under either Burglary, Robbery, Vehicle Crime, Violent Crime, Other Crime or ASB.

    So are you saying that for the purposes of this data feed from, we are only receiving indirectly from the Police the recorded crimes that are triable at Crown Court, but we are in fact missing those 1800 other types of offence which are triable by magistrate?

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