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November 11, 2018

"US Criminal Justice Policy and Practice in the Twenty‐First Century: Toward the End of Mass Incarceration?"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN and authored by Katherine Beckett, Lindsey Beach, Emily Knaphus and Anna Reosti.  Here is its abstract:

Although the wisdom of mass incarceration is now widely questioned, incarceration rates have fallen far less than what would be predicted on the basis of crime trends.  Informed by institutional studies of path dependence, sociolegal scholarship on legal discretion, and research suggesting that “late mass incarceration” is characterized by a moderated response to nonviolent crime but even stronger penalties for violent offenses, this article analyzes recent sentencing‐related reforms and case processing outcomes.  Although the legislative findings reveal widespread willingness to moderate penalties for nonviolent crimes, the results also reveal a notably heightened system response to both violent and nonviolent crimes at the level of case processing.

These findings help explain why the decline in incarceration rates has been notably smaller than the drop in crime rates and are consistent with the literature on path dependence, which emphasizes that massive institutional developments enhance the capacity and motivation of institutional actors to preserve jobs, resources, and authorities.  The findings also underscore the importance of analyzing on‐the‐ground case processing outcomes as well as formal law when assessing the state and fate of complex institutional developments such as mass incarceration.

November 11, 2018 at 10:37 PM | Permalink


My impression is that the prosecutors and some of the judges think they get better results with incarceration in prison than with probation. If that is true in general it would account for them to keeping the prison beds full.

We have nearly complete prison population data from 1870 to the present and a few data points from the census before that and the historical record shows periods of rapid growth for several decades followed by short periods of slow population decrease. The net result between 1870 and 1970 was that the prison population grew at about the same rate as the general population and the incarceration rate averaged about 195 during that time interval.

Between 1970 and 2008 there was a long period of growth were the peak rate and peak time of growth depended on both gender and the state so that understanding how the growth occurred is a very complex problem that has to be studied state by state and county by county. Unfortunately there is no grand unified theory of incarceration.

Posted by: John Neff | Nov 12, 2018 10:05:16 AM

Us Criminal Justice Policy and Practice in the Twenty First Century

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Nov 12, 2018 12:25:14 PM

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