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December 10, 2010

"On the Politics of Imprisonments: A Review of Systematic Findings"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by two social scientists at my own Ohio State University. Here is the abstract:

The great expansion in imprisonments in the United States in the past 35 years is puzzling partly because this abrupt growth is completely unprecedented.  Changes in the crime rates alone cannot explain this trend, and ideational accounts that focus on penal styles are problematic.  Political explanations, however, show promise, given that governments must provide domestic order and candidates can use public concerns about race and street crime to win elections.

This review highlights the empirical literature in sociology and also discusses some important findings in political science and economics.  Law-and-order campaign appeals combined with a covert emphasis on the links between race and street crime used to overcome Republican electoral disadvantages seem to provide the most plausible explanations for the rapid increase in U.S. imprisonment rates in this racially divided society.  Dissimilar political arrangements help explain why imprisonment trends in the United States have sharply departed from these trends in the affluent but less direct democracies in Western Europe.

December 10, 2010 at 09:33 AM | Permalink


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I saw a nostalgia piece recently about bygone college tomfoolery, and realized that streaking is now a sex offense that gets your picture on the internet, and panty raids are at least burglary, if not robbery. I am also struck by the number of 16- and 17-year-olds I meet who have assault convictions or felonies pending for high school fisticuffs (16 is "adult" for jailing purposes in North Carolina), because I remember when that sort of thing drew school discipline only.

We have criminalized - and felony-ized - WAY too much in this nation. It's no wonder we have two humorless, partisan poles in this country right now, because humor might get one prosecuted.

Posted by: Jay Hurst | Dec 10, 2010 10:26:58 AM

The Captive Mind by Czesaw Miosz.

Posted by: George | Dec 10, 2010 1:46:31 PM

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