Thursday, October 01, 2009

World Prison Population List: All nations still incarcerate at lower rates than Texas

The new World Prison Population List (pdf) is out from Kings College (London) and the United States once again tops the planet in the percentage of its citizenry incarcerated:
  • The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 756 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St Kitts & Nevis (588), Cuba (c.531), U.S. Virgin Is. (512), British Virgin Is. (488), Palau (478), Belarus (468), Belize (455), Bahamas (422), Georgia (415), American Samoa (410), Grenada (408) and Anguilla (401).
  • Almost three fifths of countries (59%) have rates below 150 per 100,000.
  • The world population in 2008 is estimated at 6,750 million (United Nations); set against a world prison population of 9.8 million this produces a world prison population rate of 145 per 100,000 (158 per 100,000 if set against a world prison population of 10.65 million).
Of course, even though Texas' incarceration rate has been recently declining, our rate still tops the US national rate by a wide margin, which makes Texas arguably the global incarceration leader. At last count, Texas prisons incarcerated more than 1,000 prisoners per every 100,000 residents. About one out of every 22 adult Texans is in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole compared to one out of 31 nationally.


RAS said...

I notice Mexico isn't on the list, or Columbia. Maybe Texas' high rate isn't what we should be complaining about but their inadequate ones. If the corrupt aren't locked up then they are in the free operating with varying degrees of power and government influence.

Anonymous said...

"If the corrupt aren't locked up then they are in the free operating with varying degrees of power and government influence."

This applies to Texas. I bet we have just as many corrupt judges, prosecutors, police officers, policticians and others. Not to mention rampant white collar crime that we don't even bother to investigate. We only have the appearance of having a better system. When you peel back the facade, there ain't much difference.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about the costs of these wrongful convictions. I don't remember the exact numbers from Grits' poll but I think an estimate of 3,000 innocent people in prison would have been in the midrange of the poll. I remember most people said more than 5,000. Someone posted some really logical reasoning indicating the number is likely more like 15,000.

Let's be conservative and use 3,000. These people now get $80,000 for each year they are wrongfully inprisoned. Lets say we were to exonorate all 3,000 of them. Lets say a conservative estimate of the average time served would be 5 years. That is 15,000 years the taxpayers would have to pay for. At $80,000 per year that is $1.2 Billion dollars....YES BILLION with a B. That's a lot of money. And remember that's a conservative estimate.

Lets say the 15,000 estimate is more accurate (that's what I believe). Then we are talking $6 Billion. That's still using a conservative estimate of an average of 5 years of time served. Lets say it turns out to be closer to 10...then were looking at $12 Billion that the taxpayers of Texas will have to pay. Of course, that's assuming they were all exonerated, which even if there are that many innocents the likelihood of all of them being exonerated is slim.

Even so, as more and more people are exonerated the costs to the taxpayers will go up. My hope is that at some point this causes a backlash against the incompetent and/or dishonest law enforcment and prosecutors that are responsible for these wrongful convictions. Although, that may not happen. You just have to look at what's going on in Smith County with the Mineola Swingers Club. You have a moronic DA who is still insisting on prosecuting people when his case has been clearly exposed as bogus. How many billions of dollars will it take to wake people up.

dirty harry said...

So, now everyone locked up in Texas is innocent?

dirty harry said...

The question that needs to be asked is this: is the incarceration rate commensurate with the crime rate? In other words, when the incarceration rate is higher, is the crime rate lower? As far as some of the places Grits mentioned in his editorial, I wouldn't venture out at night without a loaded gun in each pocket.

JSN said...

I was pleased to see that Roy Walmsley was given full credit for doing all of the work needed to create the list. When it first was published it was distributed by someone without attribution and with all of the text and footnotes removed.

In some countries people are held for a long time without being charged with a crime or as material witnesses. In other countries people disappear and if they do reappear they say they were held in something similar to a prison. Such persons are not reported as prisoners.

Anonymous said...

Another reason to live in Texas...

PirateFriedman said...

"when the incarceration rate is higher, is the crime rate lower?"

Dirty Harry, I don't think that is the main question we should ask. Of course crime goes down when people get locked up. But the argument you have to sell is whether a drop in crime is worth the enormous costs of incarceration.

Anonymous said...

response to Anonymous at 5:43pm

the discussion you are referring to can be found at

Grits wants to use the sample size of the first 1000 cases solved by DNA testing, even though not all of those DNA samples are still available for testing, which means that there is no way to verify whether or not a mistake was made. My method, on the other hand, uses the 400 (approx) sample size instead, since that is the number of samples available for retesting ( see ). There is the issue of vetted cases, which I have not followed up on, and even some of the vetted cases might not increase the 400 number if they were not in the violent crimes category.

Anonymous said...

What's interesting is that Mexico and most African countries aren't on the list, and yet I bet that those minorities are greatly overrepresented in Texas incarceration rates. Why is that?
It would be hard to argue that it's a racial or cultural thing...

dirty harry said...

on 10/01/2009 09:26:00 PM Pirate Rothbard said:
"Of course crime goes down when people get locked up. But the argument you have to sell is whether a drop in crime is worth the enormous costs of incarceration."

If you could decriminalize actions that didn't lead to other crimes or endanger the public, that would be a start. But, most drug crimes wouldn't fall into that category. Many people use the argument of: "they're just hurting themselves." But, that's not exactly true. I've never run across a crackhead on Houston's north side who wasn't also a thief. Unless of course, he was dealing enough crack to support his own habit. Then of course, you have some long haul truck drivers and oilfield workers who stay tweaked all the time. They do seem to support their own habits. But, they never hurt anyone until they climb behind the wheel after a multi-day buzz, doze off, and run over someone.

I don't know where to draw the line. What is public safety worth?

PirateFriedman said...

"But, most drug crimes wouldn't fall into that category"

Wow Dirty, you and I have had very different experiences on this one. As far as crack goes, its the drug of poor people and the two crackheads I knew both resorted to stealing. I know one guy who liked heroine, he's dead. I'm sure meth is a pretty bad drug too.

But I can't say the same thing for cocaine. Going to school at UT Austin I saw lots of peole snorting. All of them went on to be professionals: lawyers, computer programmers etc. Same goes for acid, shrooms, x, whippits.

And of course marijuanna is a drug used on a mass scale, I meet plenty of 55 year old public school teachers who still like to toke up.

So I have a hard time believing that most people who commit drug crimes are theives, though perhaps that's not what you meant.

Anonymous said...

It is all about the money!!! Prison Business is Big Business!!!

Anonymous said...


Forgetting to cite a reference====>> ding on term paper (which this blog is not)

Ideas on research that can change history====>> PRICELESS

dirty harry said...

To Pirate Rothbard:

If you re-examine my post, you will see that I didn't say that all drugs users were thieves. However, I can't think of any type of illicit drug use that doesn't lead to other crime, or present a danger to the public at large. We already just give out tickets for misdemeanor marijuana possession. I don't know if you could go beyond that without raising the crime rate or endangering the public at large. If you will remember, Amsterdam tried decriminalzing drugs and prostitution. They have since changed their minds about that. (Although, I believe marijuana is still legal there with some strict rules enforcing its use and distribution.)

dirty harry said...

To Pirate Rothbard:

I failed to comment that I believe prostitution is still legal in Amsterdam, but has since come under govt regulation.

Anonymous said...

Mexico is incorrectly listed in Central America

Marc McDonald said...

I have some friends who work in the Texas prison system.

Some of the stories they've told me are truly horrifying: torture of inmates, beatings, rapes, murder.

The thing is, there's no media in prison. There are no watchdogs.

I would kill myself, before I'd ever serve a day in one of those hell holes.

Oh, and to those who say, "Well, just obey the law, and you won't have to ever go to prison."

Yeah right.

I'm a journalist who covered criminal trials in Texas for many years. Let's just put it this way: there are a LOT of innocent people behind bars in Texas (and elsewhere in the U.S.)

Our criminal "justice" system has got to be one of the most racist and corrupt systems on earth (and I say that as someone who has traveled extensively worldwide and seen many other systems in action).

Anonymous said...

Apparently, Bexar County doesn't feel it's high enough. They are in the process of extraditing my step son back to TX for a minor PO violation in Indiana. As if your prison population isn't high enough, they are importing more.

Anonymous said...

Let's set aside the idea of the innocents and their cost to incarcerate. Let's look at non-violent first time drug users who's only crime was getting high.

Let's further restrict that to pot users and keep the same conservative number of 3,000 of them in Texas prisons. ( we know it is much higher )

Why spend billions on locking these people up while at the same time letting people who kill themselves and 37,000 more a year with tobacco smoke go free?

Does this really make any sense to anyone aside from tobacco companies and the elected officials they pay off each year?

If the justice system was really about "justice" we would ban tobacco and legalize has never been shown to kill anyone. As in any substance abuse issue including tobacco and alcohol, pot should be considered a public health matter, not a criminal one.

But remember...someone's huge profits may be at stake so don't expect logic to become acceptable in DC.

Richard Grabman said...

RAS (Comment #1).

The Mexican figures are on the report (although under "Central America" and not "North America".

Prison population is 222,671 or 207 prisoners per 100,000 people. And prison overcrowding is an political issued down this way.

Chief Clancy Wiggum said...

Two thoughts:

1. Crime rates in foreign nations might be high, but police are inept at catching criminals, or prosecutors inept at putting them away, so criminals are not imprisoned when they should be.

2. Crime rates in foreign nations might be high, but the authorities are quicker to pull the trigger and sentence you to death for offenses that might "merely" land you in prison in the United States.

PirateFriedman said...

Look, legalization isn't politically viable right now, but its certainly a good idea.

What I would prefer to see is more parole, less probation revocation, shorter sentences etc. My parents were alive during the low incarceration period of the 1960's and 1970's, it was not a bad time to be alive.

Citizens need to take responsibility for their own safety and carry guns. And avoid bad associations and drug abuse.

And if you live in a poor neighborhood with high crime, that is not my fault and I should not have to pay for the police/prison system to clean up your neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of these people incarcerated in Texas are locked up for those awful felonies committed with oysters?

Anonymous said...

response to Chief Clancy Wiggum:

The United States is listed eighth in the world in terms of high crime rates according to the the Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (1).

How do you know that prosecutors in foreign countries are inept???

As far as the death penalty, continuing the trend from previous years, in 2008 China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States of America were the five states with the highest rate of executions. Together they carried out (93%) of all executions worldwide. (2) Amnesty International, a human rights group, states that

"Europe and Central Asia is now virtually a death penalty free zone following the abolition of the death penalty in Uzbekistan for all crimes. There is just one country left — Belarus — that still carries out executions.

In the Americas, only one state — the United States — consistently executes. However, even the USA moved away from the death penalty in 2008. This year, the smallest number of executions since 1995 was reported in the USA.

The majority of countries now refrain from using the death penalty. Furthermore, in 2008 Amnesty International recorded only 25 out of 59 countries that retain the death penalty actually carried out executions. The practice of states indicates that there is increasing consolidation of majority international consensus that the death penalty cannot be reconciled with respect for human rights."

Anonymous said...

sources from last posting

(1) and also


Chief Clancy Wiggum said...

response to the response to me:

Dude, you just kinda proved my point. The numbers are skewed in making America look like the far and above #1 in terms of incarceration when in fact, you say it's eighth in terms of crime rate. So numbers are skewed, right? I mean, numbers 1 through 7 in the crime rate rankings are simply inempt (perhaps just slightly moreso) at imprisoning those they need to imprison, or they have zero patience with it all and simply execute the offenders. Is there any other explanation for why nations with a higher crime rate would have a lower imprisonment rate?

I'm not saying that the whole capital punishment thing/non-capture of criminals thing explains it all, but there has to be some effect from those two phenomenon.

Add those two things to these two tidbits I saw on another blog:

The rest of world falls largely into two categories:

1. Homogenous, where cultural and religious norms keep people in line and everyone knows everyone else, so you can't steal something without having to (a) return it and (b) face social ostracism. E.g., any country in the Arctic, in a desert or on an island.

2. Lawless, where people and property largely have to fend for themselves and the only crimes that the government cares to (or can) prosecute are those of a political nature. E.g., Sub-Saharan Africa, the Wild West, the site of the 2016 Olympics.

America is very diverse and makes a good-faith effort to impose the rule of law. Hence the large population of incarcerated convicts.

There's no doubt America incarcerates a whole lot of individuals. But it's hard to compare societies against each other when there are so many differences. Communist China might have a lower imprisonment rate, but that doesn't make it superior to us, you know what I'm saying? There are different factors in play.

Anonymous said...

The 7 countries with higher crime rates do not appear in the list of the top five counties with highest rates of executions, nor do they even appear in the top ten of the list of countries with the top incarceration rates (1), so I don't really see your point.

Sure, if we compare ourselves to China, it makes us look good due to their massive use of the death penalty...but since when do we count ourselves as a City Shining On a Hill, just because we aren't as bad as them???

But with respect to the United Nation's report, what it means is that only 7 countries have higher crime rates, and 52...let me repeat...52... have lower crime rates. The different countries have different laws, so what is criminal in China may not be criminal in the United States...and what is criminal here may not be criminal in Denmark.

In other words, it is possible to over criminalize behavior.

At the high end of the spectrum of the United Nation report, we have a lower crime rate than China, but we lock up more people. Does that mean that their prosecutors are better, using your same logic ? Maybe they would view us as having inept prosecutors, since we don't match their number of death penalties.

Sooooo...back to my questions for you...

How do you know the numbers are skewed?

You never answered the question about why you think that foreign prosecutors are inept...

Oh, and since I posted anonymously, how would you know I if I am a "dude"?


Anonymous said...

response to Anonymous at 1:57 pm (last post)

You said that

"The 7 countries with higher crime rates do not appear in the list of the top five counties with highest rates of executions, nor do they even appear in the top ten of the list of countries with the top incarceration rates (1), so I don't really see your point."

Well, maybe the crimes in those 7 countries are often not serious enough to be locking someone up, so maybe they just got probation or community service? Not every country has the money to support a prison-industrial complex, you know?

Chief Clancy Wiggum said...


What's it matter if I called you a dude. Seriously?

As much as I enjoy a back & forth, I'll make this my last response.

Hey, I didn't say for a fact that foreign prosecutors were inept. I said that it would seem that foreign authorities imprison less of their criminals than their crime rate would suggest, of which two possible causes are (1) the police aren't successfully catching these criminals and/or (2) after being caught, the criminals aren't convicted. These are POSSIBILITIES.

It simply doesn't make sense for other nations to have crime rates equal to or higher than us, (or even around the same) but yet have their imprisonment rates be lower than us unless some of the criminals in foreign nations are slipping through the cracks.

Once again, you've directly backed up my point when you say that different nations have different criminal codes. My point being it is near impossible to accurately compare different nations.

Here's a shocker: The United States treats domestic violence as a much more serious crime than many nations in the third world. In fact, just as recently as this past May, a Saudi judge said that it would be okay for men to beat their wives under various circumstances:

So what does that make you think about the "low crime rates" of other nations? Might it be that they have low crime rates because they don't even consider some assaults crimes?

To top it off, another possible explanation to out "high" imprisonment rates is that we punish criminals with imprison OR death, but not the various other punishments in between.

How many other nations use corporal punishment short of death. Not to age myself, but when I was very little, there was this big controversy about an American kid being sentenced to a caning in Singapore. It was kind of a big deal. And Singapore's not even third world, they're industrialized for chrissakes! Not sure if they still do it. But here's the point, the world can be a lot more draconian than you think, and a lot more lawless/chaotic. One the one extreme, they don't have tough laws. On the other extreme, they have extreme punishments such as stone-ings, canings, beatings, whatever.

It's hard to compare different nations, and just because we have a high imprisonment rate (or even a high crime rate) doesn't necessarily mean there's more crime here. The whole imprisonment rate stat blurs the picture because it doesn't take into account so many of differences between nations.

p.s. I am quite sure that China DOES in fact view us as having inept prosecutors. Or, at the very least, a justice system that ties the hands of prosecutors too much. But that is neither here nor there.

Anonymous said...

I think its time to start locking up more people in the USA. Drug use is rampant in this country and there is a lot more we could do in this regard. We also need to go after those who promote the culture of drug use in the media and make examples of them. Locking these people up will not only have the benefit of taking us back to a "cleaner" society morally, but will provide economic benefits in terms of good jobs for cops & prison guards. Its what we call a "win-win".

Anonymous said...

Texas makes money by locking its population up.....more money for jailers, probation officers and fines by the states. I'm surprised a smart lawyer wouldn't take the laws in Texas as unconstitutional and go to the Supreme Court but most of the criminal lawyers, especially DWI lawyers, are running a scam and also cheating the IRS by going to the banks of the accused and personally cashing the checks and not reporting the monies to the IRS.

Anonymous said...

here is a fun article from the New York Times.

Criminals are "more like impulsive children, blinded by the temptation of immediate reward and largely untroubled by the possibility of delayed or uncertain punishment.

The evidence suggests that when hardened criminals are reasonably sure that they will be caught and punished swiftly, even mild sanctions deter them. But not even the prospect of severe punishment is effective if offenders think they can get away with their crimes."

Anonymous said...

link to NYTimes article:

Anonymous said...

response to Anonymous at 10:31pm

That article from the NY times advocates shock therapy (electrocution) as a
humane solution to deal with crimes that are addictions, such as alcoholism.
There are lots of schools of thought within psychology, and this line of
thinking is in the behavioristic school...and it's no suprise that cops
tend to favor THAT line of thinking...treating everyone like lab rats in a
cage, tazering them for the slightest infraction ( can't ya just hear it already,
Bubba in the background saying "I bet he don't do THAT again!", as he gives the
sadistic, smirking little chuckle...).

Anonymous said...

response to Chiefette Clancy Wiggum :

Your "method" of discussion actually proves my point. Rather than face the evidence
put before you, you simply dismiss it by saying that "it's neither here nor there", and other
evasive manuevers. In addition, you outright lie about your remarks about the competence of
foreign prosecutors.
Your insistence that criminals aren't being caught (then how do know that they committed a crime???), or that they are not being convicted ( since they aren't incarcerated) overlooks the possibility that perhaps no crime was committed, or that they WERE caught, but given probation rather than incarceration.

Your recognition that we have different laws actually backs up my point that it is possible to overcriminalize behavior, and recent polls indicate that the question of whether or not we overlegislate or underlegislate behavior tilts towards civil libertarians as opposed to the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key crowd.

Anonymous said...

27% - Eight Years After 9/11, Fewer See Need to Sacrifice Liberties for Safety

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

to last poster:

I'm not really into youtube videos, but the one that you pointed us to says everything, thanks for sharing it. I had heard about the tazers, but this thing about LRADS (accoustic cannons) being used by the police against American citizens is borderline unbelievable - but very, very real.

Anonymous said...

NP, thanks, here is another one along the same lines

Portable pain weapon may end up in police hands

Anonymous said...

The philosophical belief in deterrence (articulated by Cesare Beccaria in 1763) has been the guiding principle on which the punitive model of justice in America was built. It directly informed the founders of this nation.

Yet, in our history and in the world overall deterrence theory is not well supported. Simply stated the nations and states within nations that punish the harshest and punish the most consistently have higher crime rates.

Deterrence theory does not live up to its billing when examine closely. If it did the US should have the lowest crime national crime rates.

We should know that punishment is highly inefficient in producing a stable and law abiding society. Objective and controlled research consistently finds that more punitive parenting practices, compared to less punitive parenting practices, are associated with higher rates of acting out by children and subsequent problem behaviors (or offending).

As Judge Dennis Challeen (1986, pp. 37-39) noted prisons fail to produce public safety or constructive change in those confined for some very obvious reasons. Speaking of inmates in prison he noted that:

We want them to have self worth, so we destroy their self worth.

We want them to be responsible, so we take away all responsibility.

We want them to be part of our community, so we isolate them from our community.

We want them to be positive and constructive, so we degrade them and make them useless.

We want them to be trustworthy, so we put them where there is no trust.

We want them to be nonviolent, so we put them where there is violence all around them.

We want them to be kind and loving people, so we subject them to hatred and cruelty.

We want them to quit being the tough guy, so we put them where the tough guy is respected.

We want them to quit hanging around losers, so we put all the losers in the state under one roof.

We want them to quit exploiting us, so we put them where they exploit each other.

We want them to take control over their own lives and quit being a parasite, so we make them totally dependent on us.”

Beyond these issues -- having a parent in prison or jail is one of the strongest predictors of future criminal behavior. Large populations in prison set the stage for higher crime rates and increased victimization at all levels.

What works is rewarding behaviors we want and using modest (rather than harsh) punishments as a last resort.

It is myopic not to pay attention to these issues as we think about how best to use incarceration.

PirateFriedman said...

Here's a neat article about the success of Portugual's elimination of criminal penalties for most drugs. It seems to have worked.

dirty harry said...

From Pirate Rothbard's article:
"The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined.."

Well, duh! Of course illegal drug use declined. It's not illegal anymore!

"..and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled."

I think there could be other explanations for this. for instance, it wouldn't surprise me at all that one of the programs enacted to give free medical care to druggies would be to supply them with free needles. That would definitely drop the HIV spread. Also, by making drug use legal, it makes it more socially acceptable. Therefore, the taboo about seeking drug addiction treatment would decrease.

What I want to see proof of, is that legalizing drugs DECREASED DUI deaths, reduced drug-related thefts and domestic violence, and other such drug related crimes.

PirateFriedman said...

"Well, duh! Of course illegal drug use declined. It's not illegal anymore!"

A semantic objection. I can't say whether it came from the study or the journalist.

"I think there could be other explanations for this. for instance, it wouldn't surprise me at all that one of the programs enacted to give free medical care to druggies would be to supply them with free needles. That would definitely drop the HIV spread."

Possibly, this is Europe we're talking about. But even if we didn't give out free needles, they would be easier to get, because they wouldn't be illegal paraphanalia, so HIV could go down here.

"Also, by making drug use legal, it makes it more socially acceptable. Therefore, the taboo about seeking drug addiction treatment would decrease"

Well if you're admitting legalization caused the improvements, we're in agreement.

"What I want to see proof of, is that legalizing drugs DECREASED DUI deaths, reduced drug-related thefts and domestic violence, and other such drug related crimes."

Nope, I have no proof. At a fundemental level, the good effects from legalization are just icing on the cake, I believe people have a right to own property without interference.

One day I could imagine imagine a liberal saying...

"What I want to see proof of, is that legalizing guns DECREASED SCHOOL SHOOTING deaths, reduced gun-related deaths and domestic violence and other such gun related crimes."

Anonymous said...

It's very interesting that we tell a woman that she is liberated and in control of her own body, but apparently that only extends to killing her unborn baby, not to drugs. (I am not a drug user, by the way).

RAS said...

I think the ones picking up the tab have a right to want controls. How many painkiller addict's kids end up with CPS? How much does it cost to deal with those kids problems and the problems of their kids? A right to use addictive drugs is the same as a right to abuse or neglect your kids, max out creditcards then go get more in another kid's name, same for all of the utilities, rent, and rent to buy. I agree that Hollywood should portray drug use in a negative way, a lot of the shows featuring Blacks make it look cool and more Blacks are killed in the drug trade than any other race. Seems like an obvious connection to me.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chief, what's your take on the latest column by Paul Craig Roberts? Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury under the Reagan Administration, and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, says that it's not the foreign prosecutors that are the problem, but our own...

dirty harry said...

Pirate Rothbard said:
"One day I could imagine imagine a liberal saying...

"What I want to see proof of, is that legalizing guns DECREASED SCHOOL SHOOTING deaths, reduced gun-related deaths and domestic violence and other such gun related crimes."

If they did, the proof is already out there for them to see. Generally speaking, the places with the strictest gun control laws have the highest crime rates.

W W Woodward said...

Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged - Part II Chapter III.

"There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them."

nuff said!

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Cindy said...

This is something I've never expected (That US is on top), but it seems most of the countries on the list are from the Americas right?
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