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August 5, 2011

Another special issue of Criminology & Public Policy examines mass incarceration

C& PP cover As noted in this prior post, the February 2011 issue of Criminology & Public Policy was devoted to the idea that society would be well served to reallocate resources from mass incarceration to targeted policing. Today I discovered that the August 2011 issue of Criminology & Public Policy explores various other aspects of the modern story of mass incarceration.  Here is an excerpt from start from the editorial introduction to the issue authored by Marie Gottschalk:

The United States is the world’s warden, incarcerating a larger proportion of its people than any other country.  Since the 1970s, the U.S. inmate population has increased by more than sixfold (Manza and Uggen, 2006: 95).  A staggering 7 million people –- or approximately 1 in every 31 adults -— are either incarcerated, on parole or probation, or under some other form of state supervision today (Glaze, 2010; Pew Center on the States, 2009).  These figures understate the enormous and disproportionate impact that this bold and unprecedented social experiment has had on certain groups in the United States.  If current trends continue, one in three Black males and one in six Hispanic males born recently are expected to spend some time in prison during their lives (Bonczar, 2003).

Since the late 1990s, the phenomenon of mass incarceration has been a growing source of scholarly interest.  Today the carceral state is a subject of rising public interest.  In 2009, Wired magazine included emptying the country’s prisons on its “Smart List” of “12 Shocking Ideas that Could Change the World,” and Parade magazine featured Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-Va.) call to end mass incarceration on its front page (Webb, 2009).

Two related questions have long dominated discussions of mass incarceration: Why did the U.S. incarceration rate, which had been reasonably stable for much of the 20th century, shoot up in the 1970s and continue to climb for decades despite a fluctuating and then plummeting crime rate?  And what precisely is the relationship between the incarceration rate and the crime rate?  Today a scholarly consensus is congealing that the dramatic rise in the incarceration rate contributed to only a modest dent in the crime rate.  Although identifying the causes of mass incarceration in the United States remains a central concern, the focus is shifting.

This special issue of Criminology & Public Policy showcases several emerging frontiers in research on mass incarceration that have enormous public policy implications: penal developments at the state and local levels; the collateral consequences of the carceral state, especially for already disadvantaged individuals, families, and communities; and the possibilities for trimming or dramatically reducing the incarcerated population and downsizing prisons. 

August 5, 2011 at 05:42 PM | Permalink

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