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This week, we learned about the unprecedented growth in the correctional population during the last 50 years. Based on your readings this week from the National Academies Press report, provide answers to the following questions. You

must

provide page numbers from the readings where these answers were located, but all answers should be in your

own

words.

Compare and contrast how these trends were represented in state prisons, federal prisons, and jails. What was similar about how these populations grew? What was different?

How did the growth in incarceration differ within the different regions of the country (South, West, Midwest, and Northeast)?

What changes to parole guidelines contributed to high rates of incarceration?

What is presumptive sentencing?

Describe the politics of crime and criminal justice throughout the 1940s and 1960s.

How do the circumstances surrounding urban economic distress contribute to rising incarceration rates?

G R O W T H I N I N C A R C E R AT I O N
L E C T U R E
1 1
LEARNING OBJECTIVES
• Rising Incarceration Rates
• Scale
• Trends
• Correspondence with crime rates
• Correctional Contributors
• Sentencing
• Underlying Contributors
• Politics
• War on Crime/War on Drugs
RISING
I N C A R C E R AT I O N :
SCALE
• In the early 1970s, incarceration rates began rising
sharply
• Five times as many Americans were incarcerated in
2007 than in 1972, per capita
• Both prisons and jails
• Minorities and people of color were
disproportionately represented in this increase
• Stay tuned next week
R I S I N G
I N C A R C E R A T I O N :
W O R L D L E A D E R
INCREASING
SCOPE OF
SUPERVISION
T H E S E
T R E N D S
A P P L Y
L O C K U P ,
N O T
T O
B U T
O T H E R
O N L Y
S E C U R E
A L S O
T O
F O R M S
O F
C O R R E C T I O N A L
S U P E R V I S I O N
A RESPONSE TO
INCREASING
C R I M E R AT E S ?
• According to Uniform Crime Report figures, reported
crime spiked from the 1960s through the 1980s
• Arrests for drug offenses continued to rise until
2010
• Does this mean that there were more crimes being
committed?
• Maybe.
• Maybe Not. – more on this later.
CORRECTIONAL
CONTRIBUTIONS TO
INCREASES IN
I N C A R C E R AT I O N
T H E
C O R R E C T I O N A L
P O L I C I E S
S Y S T E M
A N D
I M P L E M E N T E D
P R A C T I C E S
R E S P O N S I B L E
T H A T
F O R
W A S
T H E S E
C E R T A I N
P A R T L Y
T R E N D S
SENTENCING
• In the 1970s, there was a push for more equal administration of justice
• Certain sentencing policies were implemented as a result
• Sentencing guidelines
• Determinate sentencing
• All defendants were now exposed to harsh, lengthy sentences that had historically by
reserved for those who “deserved it”
• Other policies were enacted to refocus the justice system on maintaining public safety
• Truth-in-sentencing laws
• Mandatory minimums
• Three strikes laws
U N D E R LY I N G
CONTRIBUTORS TO
RISING
I N C A R C E R AT I O N
T H E
C R I M I N A L
C O M P L E X
J U S T I C E
P O L I T I C A L
S Y S T E M
O P E R AT E S
L A N D S C A P E S
T H AT
P O P U L A R
W I T H I N
S H A P E
P O L I C Y
POLITICS
•
The increase in crime and incarceration
corresponded with a political movement that called
for heavy-handed approaches to crime and justice in
the U.S.
•
War on Crime
•
President Lyndon B. Johnson
•
Crime is an emotionally charged topic with
measurable results
•
While meant to lower crime rates, set the
stage for the opposite
•
Criminalized historically noncriminal behaviors
•
Increased law enforcement
resources and technology
•
Also increased police
presence in
disadvantaged
neighborhoods
POLITICS
•
The war on crime shifted and evolved to become even more damaging
•
War on Drugs
•
President Richard Nixon
•
Exacerbated by deinstitutionalization
•
The intentions of the war on drugs have been heavily
scrutinized
•
•
•
Many suggest it was a blatant attempt to target poor
minority communities
Took a public health issue and made it a criminal issue
These political initiatives became rallying issues around which politicians
drummed up their support
•
Based in fear and a concern for one’s safety
•
After all, how popular would a political candidate be if they
promoted being less tough on crime?
CONCLUSIONS
• Rising incarceration during the 20th century and into 21st is a hugely complicated trend with a
multitude of factors that contribute to it
• In the last decade, we have begun a shift toward “decarceration”
• Moving away from using jails and prisons as the default response to crime
• We have very far to go before our levels of incarceration will be within what might be
deemed normal on the global stage
• We are always at risk of being susceptible to renewed rhetoric on “tough on crime” political
movements
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
The Growth of
INCARCERATION
in the United States
Exploring Causes and Consequences
Committee on Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration
Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, and Steve Redburn, Editors
Committee on Law and Justice
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the
councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for
the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by Award No. 11-99472-000-USP from the MacArthur
Foundation and Award No. 201I-DJ-BX-2029 from the U.S. Department of Justice. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this
publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The growth of incarceration in the United States : exploring causes and
consequences / Committee on Causes and Consequences of High Rates of
Incarceration, Jeremy Travis and Bruce Western, editors, Committee on Law
and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. National
Research Council of the National Academies.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-309-29801-8 (pbk.) — ISBN 0-309-29801-6 (pbk.) 1.
Imprisonment—United States. 2. Prisoners—United States–Social conditions.
3. Criminal justice, Administration of—United States. I. Travis, Jeremy.
II. Western, Bruce, 1964- III. National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on
Law and Justice.
HV9471.G76 2014
365’.973—dc23
2014007860
Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press,
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Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Research Council. (2014). The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. Committee on
Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration, J. Travis, B. Western, and
S. Redburn, Editors. Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and
Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
First Printing, April 2014
Second Printing, July 2014
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
COMMITTEE ON CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES
OF HIGH RATES OF INCARCERATION
JEREMY TRAVIS (Chair), John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City
University of New York
BRUCE WESTERN (Vice Chair), Department of Sociology and Kennedy
School of Government, Harvard University
JEFFREY A. BEARD, California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation*
ROBERT D. CRUTCHFIELD, Department of Sociology, University of
Washington
TONY FABELO, Justice Center, Council of State Governments,
Lexington, KY
MARIE GOTTSCHALK, Department of Political Science, University of
Pennsylvania
CRAIG W. HANEY, Department of Psychology and Program in Legal
Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
RICARDO H. HINOJOSA, U.S. District Court, Southern District of
Texas
GLENN C. LOURY, Department of Economics, Brown University
SARA S. MCLANAHAN, Department of Sociology, Princeton University
LAWRENCE M. MEAD, Department of Politics, New York University
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, Schomburg Center for Research in
Black Culture, New York City Public Library
DANIEL S. NAGIN, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University
DEVAH PAGER, Department of Sociology and Kennedy School of
Government, Harvard University
ANNE MORRISON PIEHL, Department of Economics and Program in
Criminal Justice, Rutgers University
JOSIAH D. RICH, Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, Brown
University, and Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, The
Miriam Hospital, Providence, RI
ROBERT J. SAMPSON, Department of Sociology, Harvard University
HEATHER ANN THOMPSON, Department of African American
Studies and Department of History, Temple University
MICHAEL TONRY, School of Law, University of Minnesota
AVELARDO VALDEZ, School of Social Work, University of Southern
California
STEVE REDBURN, Study Director
MALAY MAJMUNDAR, Senior Program Officer
JULIE ANNE SCHUCK, Senior Program Associate
BARBARA BOYD, Administrative Coordinator
*Resigned fall 2013.
v
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
COMMITTEE ON LAW AND JUSTICE
2013-2014
JEREMY TRAVIS (Chair), John Jay College of Criminal Justice,
New York
RUTH D. PETERSON (Vice Chair), Department of Sociology, Ohio State
University
CARL C. BELL, Community Mental Health Council, Inc.
JOHN J. DONOHUE, III, Stanford Law School, Stanford University
MINDY FULLILOVE, New York State Psychiatric Institute and Mailman
School of Public Health, Columbia University
MARK A.R. KLEIMAN, Department of Public Policy, University of
California, Los Angeles
GARY LAFREE, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice,
University of Maryland, College Park
JANET L. LAURITSEN, Department of Criminology and Criminal
Justice, University of Missouri
GLENN LOURY, Department of Economics, Brown University
JAMES P. LYNCH, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice,
University of Maryland, College Park
CHARLES F. MANSKI, Department of Economics, Northwestern
University
DANIEL S. NAGIN, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University
ANNE MORRISON PIEHL, Department of Economics and Program in
Criminal Justice, Rutgers University
DANIEL B. PRIETO, Cybersecurity and Technology, U.S. Department of
Defense
SUSAN B. SORENSON, School of Social Policy & Practice, University of
Pennsylvania
DAVID WEISBURD, Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy, George
Mason University
CATHY SPATZ WIDOM, Psychology Department, John Jay College of
Criminal Justice, City University of New York
PAUL K. WORMELI, Integrated Justice Information Systems, Ashburn, VA
ARLENE LEE, Director
vii
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
Preface
T
he growth of incarceration rates in the United States for more than
four decades has spawned commentary and a growing body of scientific knowledge about its causes and the consequences for those
imprisoned, their families and communities, and U.S. society. Recognizing
the importance of summarizing what is known (and not known) about the
many questions this phenomenon has raised, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) of the U.S. Department of Justice and the John D. and Catherine
T. MacArthur Foundation requested a study by the National Research
Council (NRC). We are grateful for support throughout the study from the
current and former NIJ directors, John Laub and Greg Ridgeway, and from
our program officers at the MacArthur Foundation, Laurie Garduque and
Craig Wacker. This report is the product of that 2-year effort, conducted
by an ad hoc committee created by the National Research Council to assess the evidence and draw out its implications for public policy. I and the
other members of the study committee hope it will inform an extensive and
thoughtful public debate about and reconsideration of the policies that led
to the current situation.
Special thanks are owed to the late James Q. Wilson who chaired the
Committee on Law and Justice (CLAJ) at the time the study was conceived
more than 5 years ago. Recognizing the importance of this issue, he organized a subcommittee of Phil Cook, Duke University; Glenn Loury, Brown
University; Tracey Meares, Yale Law School; and myself to develop a study
idea for CLAJ’s approval. At a meeting held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in January 2009, led by former CLAJ director Carol Petrie, a
group of scholars helped develop parameters for a study of high rates of
ix
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
x
PREFACE
incarceration. NIJ and the MacArthur Foundation subsequently recognized
that such a study would come at an important moment in the nation’s history and could make a significant contribution to public understanding and
to improving the justice system.
On the committee’s behalf, I thank the many individuals and organizations who assisted us in our work and without whom this study could
not have been completed. Several scholars conducted original analyses and
working papers for the committee. Alfred Blumstein, Carnegie Mellon University, and Alan Beck, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, updated their classic analysis of changes in incarceration levels. Other
contributors included Doris MacKenzie, Penn State University; Richard
Rosenfeld, University of Missouri, St. Louis; Susan Turner, University of
California, Irvine; Sara Wakefield, University of California, Irvine; and
Christopher Wildeman, Yale University, who provided detailed analyses
on various topics of interest to the committee ranging from crime rates to
prison programs to research needed to address knowledge gaps identified
in the report. Bettina Muenster, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was a
valuable consultant to the committee, most especially in her reviews of several important parts of the literature. Peter Reuter, University of Maryland,
College Park, and Jonathan Caulkins, Carnegie Mellon University, provided
insights from their work on drug crime. Eric Cadora and Charles Swartz of
the Justice Mapping Center, Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice,
provided community maps of incarceration. Steven Raphael, University of
California, Berkeley, and Michael Stoll, University of California, Los Angeles, generously shared advanced text of their now-published book on why
so many people are in prison. In addition, a number of colleagues reviewed
the research literature and prepared data for specific chapters: Scott Allen,
University of California, Riverside; Anthony Bator, Harvard University;
Dora Dumont, Miriam Hospital, Providence, RI; Wade Jacobsen, Princeton
University; Becky Pettit, University of Washington; Jessica Simes, Harvard
University; Catherine Sirois, Harvard University; and Bryan Sykes, University of Washington.
Sixteen individuals participated in a December 2012 public workshop
on health and incarceration, organized by committee member Josiah Rich,
which informed that element of the committee’s work. Other participants
were committee members Craig Haney, Bruce Western, and Scott Allen,
University of California, Riverside; Redonna Chandler, National Institute
on Drug Abuse; Jennifer Clarke, Brown University Medical Center; Jamie
Fellner, Human Rights Watch; Robert B. Greifinger, John Jay College of
Criminal Justice, CUNY; Newton Kendig, Federal Bureau of Prisons; Marc
Mauer, The Sentencing Project; Fred Osher, Council of State Governments;
Steven Rosenberg, Community Oriented Correctional Health Services;
Faye S. Taxman, George Mason University; Emily Wang, Yale University;
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
PREFACE
xi
Christopher Wildeman, Yale University; and Brie Williams, University of
California, San Francisco. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided
support for the preparation and publication of a summary of that workshop (available through the National Academies Press, http://www.nap.edu/
catalog.php?record_id=18372).
All of us recognize that the study would not be what it is—in the depth
of analysis, quality of writing, or force of its conclusions—without the efforts of the committee’s vice chair, Bruce Western. I thank him not only for
his innumerable substantive contributions to the report, but also for his
thoughtful leadership at critical times during the committee’s deliberations.
One member of the study committee, Jeffrey Beard, resigned in late
2013. He concluded that his obligations as secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a position he assumed after
having been appointed to the committee, precluded him from participating
in the final stages of the committee’s deliberations. We are indebted to him
for his contributions to the committee’s early work.
Committee member Ricardo H. Hinojosa has written a supplementary
statement, which is Appendix A. In it he expresses concerns about the report’s discussion and certain conclusions related to the causes of high rates
of incarceration and their effect on crime prevention, based on his judicial
experience. However, he does support the panel’s recommendations and the
importance of their consideration by the public and policy makers.
This study and report have benefited from the valuable assistance of
many NRC staff within CLAJ. Steve Redburn, scholar and study director,
oversaw meeting agendas and schedules for the production of this report.
In the assembly of the report, he was assisted by Malay Majmundar, senior
program officer, and Julie Schuck, senior program associate, to work collaboratively with the committee members to integrate their ideas, analyses,
writings, and conclusions into a sound report. Barbara Boyd, administrative
coordinator, made sure the committee’s study and meetings ran smoothly,
gathered data and created several figures in this report, as well as provided
bibliographic assistance. The former CLAJ director, Jane Ross, offered wise
guidance at the start of the committee’s deliberations. The current CLAJ
director, Arlene Lee, provided leadership and intellectual rigor in the final
phases of production of this report to ensure that its complex messages
were well-grounded. Conversations with Robert Hauser, executive director, and Mary Ellen O’Connell, deputy executive director, of the Division
of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education helped the committee
strengthen the presentation of its conclusions and the articulation of normative principles for the use of incarceration.
We also thank the many other NRC staff members who assisted the
committee in its work. Anthony Mann provided administrative support as
needed. Kirsten Sampson Snyder shepherded the report through the NRC
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
xii
PREFACE
review process; Eugenia Grohman helped edit the draft report; Yvonne Wise
processed the report through final production; and Patty Morison offered
guidance on communication of the study results. The staff of the NRC library and research center, Daniel Bearss, Colleen Willis, Ellen Kimmel, and
Rebecca Morgan, provided valuable assistance on the report bibliography.
We also appreciate the efforts of Rona Briere and Alisa Decatur in their
editing of the final text.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for
their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose
of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that
will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible
and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity,
evidence, and responsiveness to the charge. The review comments and draft
manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative
process.
I thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Anthony A. Braga, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management
at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, and School of Criminal
Justice, Rutgers University; Shawn Bushway, Program on the Economics of
Crime and Justice Policy, School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany,
State University of New York; Michael Flamm, Department of History,
Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio; Michael Gottfredson, University of Oregon; Peter Greenwood, Advancing EBP, Agoura, California;
Martin F. Horn, John Jay College, City University of New York, and New
York State Sentencing Commission; Randall L. Kennedy, School of Law,
Harvard University; Kenneth C. Land, Department of Sociology, Duke
University; Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project, Washington, DC; Theda
Skocpol, Scholars Strategy Network and Department of Government and
Sociology, Harvard University; Cassia Spohn, School of Criminology and
Criminal Justice, Arizona State University; Christopher Uggen, Department
of Sociology, University of Minnesota; Lester N. Wright, School of Population Health, University of Adelaide, and School of Medicine, Flinders
University, Adelaide, South Australia; Mark H. Moore, John F. Kennedy
School of Government, Harvard University; and Sara Rosenbaum, Department of Health Policy, School of Public Health and Health Services, George
Washington University.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions and
recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its
release. The review of this report was overseen by Mark Moore, Harvard
University, and Sara Rosenbaum, George Washington University. Appointed
by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
xiii
PREFACE
examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional
procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report, however, rests entirely with
the authoring committee and the institution.
More than 5 years ago, CLAJ recognized that the time had come
to marshal the best science and gain insight into how incarceration had
reached exceptional levels and with what consequences. To that end, we
on the study committee committed ourselves to reaching the consensus presented in this report through open-hearted deliberation and collaborative
spirit. Our work will be judged a contribution to the extent that it informs
a robust public discourse on these matters with scientific evidence and
thoughtful reflection on the purposes and proper limits of incarceration.
Jeremy Travis, Chair
Committee on Causes and Consequences of
High Rates of Incarceration in the United States
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
Contents
Summary
1
1
Introduction
The Committee’s Charge, 14
Meanings and Uses of Incarceration, 19
Study Approach, 22
Guiding Principles, 23
Understanding Causes, 24
Assessing Consequences, 26
Weighing the Evidence, 29
Applying the Evidence to Policy, 31
Organization of the Report, 32
2
Rising Incarceration Rates
33
U.S. Incarceration in Historical and Comparative Perspective, 34
Trends in Prison and Jail Populations, 37
The Increasing Scope of Correctional Supervision, 40
Variation in Incarceration Rates Among States, 42
Crime and the Dynamics of the Growth of the Penal Population, 44
Trends in Crime, 45
Linking Crime to the Trend in Imprisonment, 47
Racial Disparity in Imprisonment, 56
Violent Crimes, 59
Drug Crimes, 60
Incarceration of Hispanics, 61
xv
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
13
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
xvi
CONTENTS
Concentration of Incarceration by Age, Sex, Race/Ethnicity,
and Education, 64
Conclusion, 68
3 Policies and Practices Contributing to High Rates of Incarceration 70
Changes in U.S. Sentencing Laws, 71
Phase I: Changes Aimed at Increased Consistency and Fairness, 74
Phase II: Changes Aimed at Increased Certainty and Severity, 78
Principles of Justice, 85
Evidence and Policy, 89
Racial Disparities, 91
Disparities in Imprisonment Rates Relative to Population, 94
Disparities in Imprisonment Rates Relative to Offending, 94
Disparities in Sentencing and Case Processing, 97
Conclusion, 101
4 The Underlying Causes of Rising Incarceration: Crime, Politics,
and Social Change
104
The Politics of Crime and Criminal Justice from the 1940s to the
Early 1960s¸106
The Johnson Administration and the War on Crime, 109
Law and Order and the Rising Crime Rate, 111
Political and Electoral Realignment, 113
Other Political Factors, 117
The War on Drugs, 118
Crime, Punishment, Race, and Public Opinion, 121
Political Institutions and Culture, 123
Urban Economic Distress, 127
Conclusion, 128
5 The Crime Prevention Effects of Incarceration
Deterrence: Theory and Empirical Findings, 132
Theory, 132
Empirical Findings, 134
Incapacitation, 140
Constancy of λ Across the Population, 141
Constancy of λ Over the Criminal Career, 143
Other Considerations, 145
Estimating the Total Effect of Incarceration on Crime, 146
The Criminal Involvement of the Formerly Incarcerated, 150
Effects of Incarceration for Drug Offenses on Drug Prices and
Drug Use, 152
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
130
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
CONTENTS
xvii
Knowledge Gaps, 154
Deterrence and Sentence Length, 154
Sentencing Data by State, 154
Conclusion, 155
6 The Experience of Imprisonment
Variations in Prison Environments, 158
Trends Affecting the Nature of Prison Life, 159
Prison Data, 164
Lack of National and Standardized Data, 164
Few Quality-of-Life Indicators, 165
Conditions of Confinement, 167
Imprisonment of Women, 170
Imprisonment of Youth, 172
General Psychological Observations, 174
Extreme Conditions of Imprisonment, 178
Idleness and Programming, 188
Potential Postprison Criminogenic Effects, 193
What Works in Prison Rehabilitation and Reentry, 195
Knowledge Gaps, 198
Data Improvement and Standardization, 198
Mechanisms for Observed Consequences, 199
Diversion Programs, 199
Conclusion, 200
157
7 Consequences for Health and Mental Health
Health Profile of Inmates, 204
Mental Health, 204
Substance Abuse, 206
Infectious Diseases, 208
Chronic Conditions and Special Populations, 210
Health Care in Correctional Facilities, 213
Legal Basis, 213
Costs, 214
Standards, 215
Screening, 215
Correctional Health Care Providers, 216
Drug Treatment, 217
Health Disparities, 219
Impact of Incarceration on Health, 221
Conditions of Incarceration and Health, 221
Violence and Health, 224
202
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CONTENTS
Health Following Release, 226
Access to Health Care After Release, 227
Community Health, 228
Knowledge Gaps, 229
Public Health Opportunities, 229
Data Standardization and Quality Improvement, 230
Conclusion, 230
8 Consequences for Employment and Earnings
233
Mechanisms, 234
Selection, 234
Transformation, 235
Labeling, 235
Approaches to Studying Employment Effects, 236
Surveys of Employer Attitudes, 237
Ethnographic and Other Qualitative Studies, 238
Experimental Approaches to Studying Criminal Stigma, 239
Analysis of Survey Data, 241
Use of Administrative Data, 242
Discussion, 247
Aggregate Studies, 248
Programs and Policies for Improving Employment Outcomes, 250
Employment Reentry Programs, 250
Limits on Access to Criminal Records, 255
Knowledge Gaps, 256
Directions for Future Research, 256
Labor Market Context, 257
Programs to Improve Employment and Other Outcomes, 257
Conclusion, 258
9 Consequences for Families and Children
Incarceration of Partners and Fathers, 263
Male-Female Relationships, 264
Economic Well-Being, 267
Parenting, 268
Child Well-Being, 270
Incarceration of Mothers, 273
Methodological Limitations, 275
Knowledge Gaps, 277
Understanding Variations, 278
Aggregate Effects, 278
Conclusion, 278
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
CONTENTS
xix
10 Consequences for Communities
Spatial Concentration of High Rates of Incarceration, 283
Competing Views on the Community-Level Effects of
Incarceration, 288
Assessing the Evidence, 289
Methodological Challenges to Causal Inference, 292
Is High Incarceration Different?, 296
Additional Perspectives, 297
Knowledge Gaps, 298
Comparative Qualitative Studies, 299
Natural Experiments, 299
Life-Course Perspectives, 300
Neighborhood-Level Relationships, 300
Conclusion, 301
281
11 Wider Consequences for U.S. Society
New Gradations of Citizenship, 304
Probationers and Parolees, 305
Extensions of Punishment, 305
Political Disenfranchisement, 307
The U.S. Census and Political Representation, 309
Invisible Inequality, 310
The U.S. Census, 311
Other Databases, 312
Voter Turnout, 313
Public Costs and Fiscal Pressures, 314
Conclusion, 317
303
12 The Prison in Society: Values and Principles
Historical Development, 321
Desert and Proportionality, 324
Parsimony, 326
Citizenship, 327
Social Justice, 330
Conclusion, 332
320
13 Findings, Conclusions, and Implications
Findings and Conclusions, 334
History, 334
Consequences, 336
Implications, 340
Role of Policy, 342
Sentencing Policy, 344
334
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CONTENTS
Prison Policy, 349
Social Policy, 351
Recommended Research, 353
Understanding the Experience of Incarceration and Its Effects, 354
Understanding Alternative Sentencing Policies, 354
Understanding the Impact of Incarceration on Communities, 355
Concluding Thoughts, 356
References
358
Appendixes
A
B
C
D
Supplementary Statement by Ricardo H. Hinojosa
Data Sources
Incarceration in the United States: A Research Agenda
Biographical Sketches of Committee Members
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419
421
424
435
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
Summary
A
fter decades of stability from the 1920s to the early 1970s, the rate
of incarceration in the United States more than quadrupled in the
past four decades. The Committee on the Causes and Consequences
of High Rates of Incarceration in the United States was established under
the auspices of the National Research Council, supported by the National
Institute of Justice and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to review evidence on the causes and consequences of these high
incarceration rates and the implications of this evidence for public policy.
Our work encompassed research on, and analyses of, the proximate
causes of the dramatic rise in the prison population and the societal dynamics that supported those proximate causes. Our analysis reviewed evidence
of the effects of high rates of incarceration on public safety as well as those
in prison, their families, and the communities from which these men and
women originate and to which they return. We also examined the effects
on U.S. society.
After assessing the evidence, the committee found that the normative
principles that both limit and justify the use of incarceration as a response
to crime were a necessary element of the analytical process. Public policy
on the appropriate use of prison is not determined solely by weighing
evidence of costs and benefits. Rather, a combination of empirical findings
and explicit normative commitments is required. Issues regarding criminal
punishment necessarily involve ideas about justice, fairness, and just deserts. Accordingly, this report includes a review of established principles of
jurisprudence and governance that have historically guided society’s use of
incarceration.
1
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THE GROWTH OF INCARCERATION
Finally, we considered the practical implications of our conclusions for
public policy and for research.
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
From 1973 to 2009, the state and federal prison populations that are
the main focus of this study rose steadily, from about 200,000 to 1.5 million, declining slightly in the following 4 years. In addition to the men and
women serving prison time for felonies, another 700,000 are held daily
in local jails. In recent years, the federal prison system has continued to
expand, while the state incarceration rate has declined. Between 2006 and
2011, more than half the states reduced their prison populations, and in 10
states the number of people incarcerated fell by 10 percent or more.
The U.S. penal population of 2.2 million adults is the largest in the
world. In 2012, close to 25 percent of the world’s prisoners were held in
American prisons, although the United States accounts for about 5 percent
of the world’s population. The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly 1
of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is 5 to 10 times higher than rates in
Western Europe and other democracies.
CONCLUSION: The growth in incarceration rates in the United States
over the past 40 years is historically unprecedented and internationally
unique.
Those who are incarcerated in U.S. prisons come largely from the most
disadvantaged segments of the population. They comprise mainly minority
men under age 40, poorly educated, and often carrying additional deficits
of drug and alcohol addiction, mental and physical illness, and a lack of
work preparation or experience. Their criminal responsibility is real, but it
is embedded in a context of social and economic disadvantage. More than
half the prison population is black or Hispanic. In 2010, blacks were incarcerated at six times and Hispanics at three times the rate for non-Hispanic
whites. The emergence of high incarceration rates has broad significance
for U.S. society. The meaning and consequences of this new reality cannot
be separated from issues of social inequality and the quality of citizenship
of the nation’s racial and ethnic minorities.
Causes
By the time incarceration rates began to grow in the early 1970s, U.S.
society had passed through a tumultuous period of social and political
change. Decades of rising crime accompanied a period of intense political
conflict and a profound transformation of U.S. race relations. The problem
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
SUMMARY
3
of crime gained a prominent place in national policy debates. Crime and
race were sometimes conflated in political conversation.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a changed political climate provided the context for a series of policy choices. Across all branches and levels of government, criminal processing and sentencing expanded the use of incarceration
in a number of ways: prison time was increasingly required for lesser offenses; time served was significantly increased for violent crimes and for
repeat offenders; and drug crimes, particularly street dealing in urban areas,
became more severely policed and punished. These changes in punishment
policy were the main and proximate drivers of the growth in incarceration.
In the 1970s, the numbers of arrests and court caseloads increased, and
prosecutors and judges became harsher in their charging and sentencing. In
the 1980s, convicted defendants became more likely to serve prison time.
More than half of the growth in state imprisonment during this period was
driven by the increased likelihood of incarceration given an arrest. Arrest
rates for drug offenses climbed in the 1970s, and mandatory prison time
for these offenses became more common in the 1980s.
During the 1980s, the U.S. Congress and most state legislatures enacted
laws mandating lengthy prison sentences—often of 5, 10, and 20 years
or longer—for drug offenses, violent offenses, and “career criminals.” In
the 1990s, Congress and more than one-half of the states enacted “three
strikes and you’re out” laws that mandated minimum sentences of 25 years
or longer for affected offenders. A majority of states enacted “truth-insentencing” laws requiring affected offenders to serve at least 85 percent of
their nominal prison sentences. The Congress enacted such a law in 1984.
These changes in sentencing reflected a consensus that viewed incarceration as a key instrument for crime control. Yet over the four decades
when incarceration rates steadily rose, U.S. crime rates showed no clear
trend: the rate of violent crime rose, then fell, rose again, then declined
sharply. The best single proximate explanation of the rise in incarceration is
not rising crime rates, but the policy choices made by legislators to greatly
increase the use of imprisonment as a response to crime. Mandatory prison
sentences, intensified enforcement of drug laws, and long sentences contributed not only to overall high rates of incarceration, but also especially
to extraordinary rates of incarceration in black and Latino communities.
Intensified enforcement of drug laws subjected blacks, more than whites,
to new mandatory minimum sentences—despite lower levels of drug use
and no higher demonstrated levels of trafficking among the black than the
white population. Blacks had long been more likely than whites to be arrested for violence. But three strikes, truth-in-sentencing, and related laws
have likely increased sentences and time served for blacks more than whites.
As a consequence, the absolute disparities in incarceration increased, and
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THE GROWTH OF INCARCERATION
imprisonment became common for young minority men, particularly those
with little schooling.
CONCLUSION: The unprecedented rise in incarceration rates can
be attributed to an increasingly punitive political climate surrounding
criminal justice policy formed in a period of rising crime and rapid
social change. This provided the context for a series of policy choices
—across all branches and levels of government—that significantly increased sentence lengths, required prison time for minor offenses, and
intensified punishment for drug crimes.
Consequences
Relationships among incarceration, crime, sentencing policy, social
inequality, and numerous other variables influencing the growth of incarceration are complex, change across time and place, and interact with each
other. As a result, estimating the social consequences of high rates of incarceration, including the effects on crime, is extremely challenging. Because of
the challenge of separating cause and effect from an array of social forces,
studies examining the impact of incarceration on crime have produced
divergent findings. Most studies conclude that rising incarceration rates
reduced crime, but the evidence does not clearly show by how much. A
number of studies also find that the crime-reducing effects of incarceration
become smaller as the incarceration rate grows, although this may reflect
the aging of prison populations.
CONCLUSION: The increase in incarceration may have caused a decrease in crime, but the magnitude of the reduction is highly uncertain
and the results of most studies suggest it was unlikely to have been
large.
Much research on the crime effects of incarceration attempts to measure reductions in crime that might result from deterrence and incapacitation. Long sentences characterize the period of high incarceration rates, but
research on deterrence suggests that would-be offenders are deterred more
by the risk of being caught than by the severity of the penalty they would
face if arrested and convicted. High rates of incarceration may have reduced
crime rates through incapacitation (locking up people who might otherwise
commit crimes), although there is no strong consensus on the magnitude of
this effect. And because offending declines markedly with age, the incapacitation effect of very long sentences is likely to be small.
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SUMMARY
5
CONCLUSION: The incremental deterrent effect of increases in
lengthy prison sentences is modest at best. Because recidivism rates
decline markedly with age, lengthy prison sentences, unless they specifically target very high-rate or extremely dangerous offenders, are an
inefficient approach to preventing crime by incapacitation.
The distribution of incarceration across the population is highly uneven. As noted above, regardless of race or ethnicity, prison and jail inmates
are drawn mainly from the least educated segments of society. Among
white male high school dropouts born in the late 1970s, about one-third
are estimated to have served time in prison by their mid-30s. Yet incarceration rates have reached even higher levels among young black men with
little schooling: among black male high school dropouts, about two-thirds
have a prison record by that same age—more than twice the rate for their
white counterparts. The pervasiveness of imprisonment among men with
very little schooling is historically unprecedented, emerging only in the past
two decades.
Much of the significance of the social and economic consequences of
incarceration is rooted in the high absolute level of incarceration for minority groups and in the large racial disparities in incarceration rates. In the
era of high incarceration rates, prison admission and return have become
commonplace in minority neighborhoods characterized by high levels of
crime, poverty, family instability, poor health, and residential segregation. Racial disparities in incarceration have tended to differentiate the life
chances and civic participation of blacks, in particular, from those of most
other Americans.
CONCLUSION: People who live in poor and minority communities
have always had substantially higher rates of incarceration than other
groups. As a consequence, the effects of harsh penal policies in the past
40 years have fallen most heavily on blacks and Hispanics, especially
the poorest.
Coming from some of the most disadvantaged segments of society,
many of the incarcerated entered prison in unsound physical and mental
health. The poor health status of the inmate population serves as a basic
marker of its social disadvantage and underlines the contemporary importance of prisons as public health institutions. Incarceration is associated
with overlapping afflictions of substance use, mental illness, and risk for
infectious diseases (HIV, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases, and
others). This situation creates an enormous challenge for the provision of
health care for inmates, although it also provides opportunities for screening, diagnosis, treatment, and linkage to treatment after release.
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THE GROWTH OF INCARCERATION
Prison conditions can be especially hard on some people, particularly
those with mental illness, causing severe psychological stress. Although levels of lethal violence in prisons have declined, conditions have deteriorated
in some other ways. Increased rates of incarceration have been accompanied by overcrowding and decreased opportunity for rehabilitative programs, as well as a growing burden on medical and mental health services.
Many state prisons and the Federal Bureau of Prisons operate at or
above 100 percent of their designed capacity. With overcrowding, cells
designed for a single inmate often house two and sometimes three people.
The concern that overcrowding would create more violent environments
did not materialize during the period of rising incarceration rates: rather, as
the rates rose, the numbers of riots and homicides within prisons declined.
Nonetheless, research has found overcrowding, particularly when it persists
at high levels, to be associated with a range of poor consequences for health
and behavior and an increased risk of suicide. In many cases, prison provides far less medical care and rehabilitative programming than is needed.
Incarceration is strongly correlated with negative social and economic
outcomes for former prisoners and their families. Men with a criminal
record often experience reduced earnings and employment after prison.
Fathers’ incarceration and family hardship, including housing insecurity
and behavioral problems in children, are strongly related. The partners and
children of prisoners are particularly likely to experience adverse outcomes
if the men were positively involved with their families prior to incarceration. From 1980 to 2000, the number of children with incarcerated fathers
increased from about 350,000 to 2.1 million—about 3 percent of all U.S.
children. From 1991 to 2007, the number of children with a father or
mother in prison increased 77 percent and 131 percent, respectively.
The rise in incarceration rates marked a massive expansion of the role
of the justice system in the nation’s poorest communities. Many of those
entering prison come from and will return to these communities. When they
return, their lives often continue to be characterized by violence, joblessness, substance abuse, family breakdown, and neighborhood disadvantage.
The best evidence to date leaves uncertain the extent to which these conditions of life are themselves exacerbated by incarceration. It is difficult to
draw strong causal inferences from the research, but there is little question
that incarceration has become another strand in the complex combination
of negative conditions that characterize high-poverty communities in U.S.
cities.
Given the evidence, crime reduction and socioeconomic disadvantage
are both plausible outcomes of increased incarceration, but estimates of the
size of these effects range widely. The vast expansion of the criminal justice
system has created a large population whose access to public benefits, occupations, vocational licenses, and the franchise is limited by a criminal
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
7
SUMMARY
conviction. High rates of incarceration are associated with lower levels of
civic and political engagement among former prisoners and their families
and friends than among others in their communities. Disfranchisement of
former prisoners and the way prisoners are enumerated in the U.S. census
combine to weaken the power of low-income and minority communities.
For these people, the quality of citizenship—the quality of their membership
in American society and their relationship to public institutions—has been
impaired. These developments have created a highly distinct political and
legal universe for a large segment of the U.S. population.
CONCLUSION: The change in penal policy over the past four decades
may have had a wide range of unwanted social costs, and the magnitude of crime reduction benefits is highly uncertain.
The consequences of the decades-long build-up of the U.S. prison population have been felt most acutely in minority communities in urban areas
already experiencing significant social, economic, and public health disadvantages. For policy and public life, the magnitude of the consequences of
incarceration may be less important than the overwhelming evidence of this
correlation. In communities of concentrated disadvantage—characterized
by high rates of poverty, violent crime, mental illness and drug addiction—
the United States embarked on a massive and unique intensification of
criminal punishment. Although many questions remain unanswered, the
greatest significance of the era of high incarceration rates may lie in that
simple descriptive fact.
Policies regulating criminal punishment cannot be determined only by
the scientific evidence. The decision to deprive another human being of his
or her liberty is, at root, anchored in beliefs about the relationship between
the individual and society and the role of criminal sanctions in preserving
the social compact. Thus, sound policies on crime and incarceration will
reflect a combination of science and fundamental principles.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES
A broad discussion of principles has been notably absent from the nation’s recent policy debates on the use of imprisonment. Beginning in the
early 1970s, in a time of rising violence and rapid social change, policy
makers turned to incarceration to denounce the moral insult of crime and
to deter and incapacitate criminals. As offender accountability and crime
control were emphasized, principles that previously had limited the severity
of punishment were eclipsed, and punishments became more severe. Yet a
balanced understanding of the role of imprisonment in society recognizes
that the deprivation of personal liberty is one of the harshest penalties
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THE GROWTH OF INCARCERATION
society can impose. Even under the best conditions, incarceration can do
great harm—not only to those who are imprisoned, but also more broadly
to families, communities, and society as a whole. Moreover, the forcible
deprivation of liberty through incarceration is vulnerable to misuse, threatening the basic principles that underpin the legitimacy of prisons.
The jurisprudence of punishment and theories of social policy have
sought to limit public harm by appealing to long-standing principles of fairness and shared social membership. We believe that as policy makers and
the public consider the implications of the findings presented in this report,
they also should consider the following four principles whose application
would constrain the use of incarceration:
•
•
•
•
Proportionality: Criminal offenses should be sentenced in proportion to their seriousness.
Parsimony: The period of confinement should be sufficient but not
greater than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing policy.
Citizenship: The conditions and consequences of imprisonment
should not be so severe or lasting as to violate one’s fundamental
status as a member of society.
Social justice: Prisons should be instruments of justice, and as such
their collective effect should be to promote and not undermine
society’s aspirations for a fair distribution of rights, resources, and
opportunities.
These principles ought to be seen as complementing rather than conflicting with the recent emphasis on offender accountability and crime control. Together, they help define a balanced role for the use of incarceration
in U.S. society.
CONCLUSION: In the domain of justice, empirical evidence by itself
cannot point the way to policy, yet an explicit and transparent expression of normative principles1 has been notably missing as U.S. incarceration rates dramatically rose over the past four decades. Normative
principles have deep roots in jurisprudence and theories of governance
and are needed to supplement empirical evidence to guide future policy
and research.
1 Political theorists and legal analysts have often observed that public policy necessarily
embodies ethical judgments about means or ends. These judgments are informed by normative principles: basic ideals or values—often embedded in history, institutions, and public
understanding—that offer a yardstick by which good governance is measured (see, e.g., Gillroy
and Wade 1992).
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
SUMMARY
9
POLICY IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATION
We have looked at an anomalous period in U.S. history, examining why
it arose and with what consequences. Given the available evidence regarding the causes and consequences of high incarceration rates, and guided by
fundamental normative principles regarding the appropriate use of imprisonment as punishment, we believe that the policies leading to high incarceration rates are not serving the country well. We are concerned that the
United States has gone past the point where the numbers of people in prison
can be justified by social benefits. Indeed, we believe that the high rates of
incarceration themselves constitute a source of injustice and, possibly, social
harm. A criminal justice system that made less use of incarceration might
better achieve its aims than a harsher, more punitive system
RECOMMENDATION: Given the small crime prevention effects of
long prison sentences and the possibly high financial, social, and human
costs of incarceration, federal and state policy makers should revise
current criminal justice policies to significantly reduce the rate of incarceration in the United States. In particular, they should reexamine policies regarding mandatory prison sentences and long sentences. Policy
makers should also take steps to improve the experience of incarcerated
men and women and reduce unnecessary harm to their families and
their communities.
We recommend such a systematic review of penal and related policies
with the goals of achieving a significant reduction in the number of people
in prison in the United States and providing better conditions for those
in prison. To promote these goals, jurisdictions would need to review a
range of programs, including community-based alternatives to incarceration, probation and parole, prisoner reentry support, and diversion from
prosecution, as well as crime prevention initiatives.
Given the evidence that incarceration has been overused when less
harmful alternatives could plausibly achieve better individual and social
outcomes, we specifically urge consideration of changes in sentencing and
other policies. We also propose that policy makers and citizens rethink the
role played by prisons in addressing public safety and seek out crime reduction strategies that are more effective and less harmful. In many cases,
alternatives to incarceration would be more practical and efficient ways
to achieve the same objectives. Although a comprehensive review of the
research on noncustodial sanctions and treatments was not part of our
charge, that research could provide policy makers with guidance on when
and how to substitute these alternatives for incarceration.
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
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THE GROWTH OF INCARCERATION
To minimize harm from incarceration, we urge reconsideration of the
conditions of confinement and programs in prisons. Given that nearly all
prisoners are eventually released, attention should be paid to how prisons
can better serve society by addressing the need of prisoners to adjust to life
following release and supporting their successful reintegration with their
families and communities. Reviews of the conditions and programs in prisons would benefit from being open to public scrutiny. One approach would
be to subject prisons to systematic ratings related to their public purposes.
Such ratings could incorporate universal standards that recognize the humanity and citizenship of prisoners and the obligation to prepare them for
life after prison.
We offer more specific suggestions for reconsideration of incarceration policies in three domains—sentencing policy, prison policy, and social
policy.
•
•
•
Sentencing policy. The evidence does not provide explicit guidance
for a comprehensive reexamination of current sentencing policies.
Details of strategies for reducing incarceration levels will depend
on a complex interplay between the public and policy makers. Yet
the evidence points to some sentencing practices that impose large
social, financial, and human costs; yield uncertain benefits; and
are inconsistent with the long-standing principles of the jurisprudence of punishment. Specifically, the evidence suggests that long
sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, and policies on enforcement of drug laws should be reexamined.
Prison policy. Given how damaging the experience of incarceration can be for some of those incarcerated and in some cases for
their families and communities, we propose that steps be taken to
improve the conditions and programs in prisons in ways that will
reduce the harmful effects of incarceration and foster the successful
reintegration of former prisoners when they are released.
Social policy. Reducing the severity of sentences will not, by itself,
relieve the underlying problems of economic insecurity, low education, and poor health that are associated with incarceration in
the nation’s poorest communities. Solutions to these problems are
outside the criminal justice system, and they will include policies
that address school dropout, drug addiction, mental illness, and
neighborhood poverty—all of which are intimately connected to
incarceration. If large numbers of intensely disadvantaged primeage men and women remain in, or return to, poor communities
without supports, the effects could be broadly harmful. Sustainably
reducing incarceration may depend, in part, on whether services
and programs are sufficient to meet the needs of those who would
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
11
SUMMARY
otherwise be locked up. Thus, policy makers and communities will
need to assess and address the availability, accessibility, and quality
of social services, including drug treatment, health care, employment, and housing for those who otherwise would be imprisoned.
RESEARCH RECOMMENDATION
Recognizing that the knowledge base for many policies related to incarceration is limited, we urge the research community to work closely with
the national and state governments and nongovernmental institutions to
develop an ambitious and multifaceted portfolio of study to fill knowledge
gaps in this field. For policy and public understanding, more studies are
needed of the effects of various sanction policies, including those involving
incarceration, on crime. The availability and effectiveness of alternatives to
help achieve a just and safe society without a heavy reliance on incarceration need to be thoroughly studied.
The design and evaluation of promising alternatives to incarceration are
of critical importance to this proposed research portfolio. Such a research
program would expand the options of state officials for responding to the
problem of crime. Scholars should also be engaged in policy discussions
about the costs and benefits of various changes in sentencing policy that
would reduce rates of incarceration. Researchers should expand the number
of systematic evaluations of prison-based programs, aid in the development
of evidence-based policies that promote humane prison conditions, and help
design and evaluate reentry programs that support successful reintegration.
Finally, when these interventions have proven effective, the research community should offer its expertise to assist in bringing them to scale.
RECOMMENDATION: Given the prominent role played by prisons in
U.S. society, the far-reaching impact of incarceration, and the need to
develop policies that reduce reliance on imprisonment as a response to
crime, public and private research institutions and statistical agencies
should support a robust research and statistics program commensurate
with the importance of these issues.
Research aimed at developing a better understanding of (1) the experience of being incarcerated and its effects, (2) alternative sentencing policies, and (3) the impact of incarceration on communities is outlined in the
report’s final chapter and expanded on in Appendix C.
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
1
Introduction
A
fter decades of stability from the 1920s to the early 1970s, the rate
of incarceration in the United States has increased to a rate more
than four times higher than in 1972. In 1972, the U.S. incarceration
rate—the number in prisons and local jails per 100,000 population—stood
at 161. After peaking in 2009, the number of people in state and federal
prisons fell slightly through 2012. Still, in 2012, the incarceration rate
was 707 per 100,000, a total of 2.23 million people in custody (Glaze and
Herberman, 2013). With nearly 1 of every 100 adults in prison or jail, the
U.S. rate of incarceration is 5 to 10 times higher than the rates in Western
European and other liberal democracies.1
The large racial disparity in incarceration is striking. Of those behind bars in 2011, about 60 percent were minorities (858,000 blacks
and 464,000 Hispanics) (Carson and Sabol, 2012; Maguire, n.d., Table
6.17.2011). The largest impact of the prison buildup has been on poor, minority men. African American men born since the late 1960s are more likely
to have served time in prison than to have completed college with a 4-year
degree (Pettit and Western, 2004; Pettit, 2012). And African American men
under age 35 who failed to finish high school are now more likely to be
behind bars than employed in the labor market. The rise in incarceration
1 The
1972 incarceration rate is calculated from counts of the prison and jail population reported in Hindelang et al. (1977, Tables 6.1 and 6.43). The 2012 prison and jail incarceration
rates and the incarcerated population are reported in Glaze and Herberman (2013, Table 2).
International incarceration rates for European countries are from Aebi and Delgrande (2013),
and data on Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States are from Walmsley
(2012), as well as updates from the International Centre for Prison Studies (2013).
13
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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences
14
THE GROWTH OF INCARCERATION
transformed not only the criminal justice system, but also U.S. race relations and the institutional landscape of urban poverty.
The U.S. justice system has charted a unique path to crime control that
traverses poor and minority communities across the country. A number of
research literatures explore the sources of rising incarceration rates in policy
and social change; the relationship between crime and incarceration; and
the effects of incarceration on the employment, health, and family life of
the formerly incarcerated and more broadly on U.S. civic life. Yet there has
been no comprehensive effort to date to assess the causes, scope, and consequences of contemporary incarceration rates. Four questions stand out:
1. What changes in U.S. society and public policy drove the rise in
incarceration?
2. What consequences have these changes had for crime rates?
3. What effects does incarceration have on those in confinement; on
their families and children; on the neighborhoods and communities from which they come and to which they return; and on the
economy, politics, structure, and culture of U.S. society?
4. What are the implications for public policy of the evidence on
causes and effects of high levels of incarceration?
An ad hoc committee of the National Research Council was asked to
review the scientific evidence on these questions. By weighing the evidence
on both the causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration, the
committee’s work may help the public and policy makers decide whether
the current rates are too high and, if so, to explore policy alternatives. And
if the evidence is wanting or inconsistent, then this study can indicate directions for future research.
THE COMMITTEE’S CHARGE
The committee’s statement of task (see Box 1-1) describes in greater
detail the scope of its efforts.
Incarceration is a unique state function. The forcible deprivation of
liberty and detention in a facility designed for the purpose is a restriction
on the individual freedom to which liberal societies aspire. Incarceration
represents a collective decision that some among us are too dangerous, or
their crimes too serious, to circulate freely in the community. To preserve
order and safety, to affirm norms of lawful conduct, and to help remedy
criminal behavior, we built lockups, detention centers, asylums, jails, and
prisons. These institutions reflect how a society through its political process
has negotiated a compromise between order and freedom. Incarceration
is in many ways a foundational institution, being the last resort of a state’s
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authority in the performance of its many other functions. As many have
remarked, the use and character of incarceration thus reveals something
fundamental about a society’s level of civilization and the quality of citizenship (de Beaumont and de Tocqueville, 1970; Churchill, 1910; Dostoevsky,
1861).
Imprisonment lies at one end of a continuum of legally ordered restraints on liberty, some imposed not as punishment but as part of the
criminal justice process prior to a possible charge or conviction or following
release from confinement. At the other end of the continuum are forms of
community supervision, such as probation and parole, as well as in-home
detention. Compared with punishment outside a facility, confinement in a
local jail or detention facility for short periods is likely to be seen and experienced as a more severe form of punishment. Prison incarceration then
follows. Of course, imprisonment itself varies in severity, depending on the
specifics of confinement and treatment.
Contemporary incarceration takes many forms. The juvenile justice
system has developed a special set of rules and protocols for the detention
of children. Criminally convicted adults are held in state or federal prisons,
generally serving more than a year for a felony. Local jails typically detain
those serving short sentences or awaiting trial. Immigrants awaiting deportation may be held in federal detention facilities. The mentally ill may be
housed under civil commitment to state hospitals. The conditions of incarceration, like those who are confined, thus show considerable variation.
The primary focus of this report is on adults incarcerated in prisons
and jails. Prisoners form an important subset of this group because of their
large numbers among the total incarcerated population and the long terms
of their confinement. Throughout the report, therefore, we often focus specifically on prison incarceration. The size of the prison population depends
not only on the number of crimes, arrests, convictions, and prison commitments but also on the use of alternatives to incarceration and on responses
to violations of the terms of parole or probation. Although other forms of
incarceration outside of the adult criminal justice system are undeniably
important, they have been less important to the steep rise in incarceration
over the past four decades that forms our main charge.
This study differs from many conducted by committees of the National
Research Council with respect to its scope and the number of questions
posed about a complex social phenomenon. The causes of the increase
in incarceration rates are disputed, and its consequences are not fully understood. Nevertheless, a rigorous review of the evidence is now timely.
A burgeoning research literature helps explain why the U.S. incarceration
rate grew so dramatically and examines the consequences for those incarcerated, their families, communities, and U.S. society. For several decades,
enthusiasm for incarceration dominated crime policy and the related public
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BOX 1-1
Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration
Statement of Task
An ad hoc panel will conduct a study and prepare a report that will focus on
the scientific evidence that exists on the use of incarceration in the United States
and will propose a research agenda on the use of incarceration and alternatives
to incarceration for the future. The study will explore the causes of the dramatic
increases in incarceration rates since the 1970s, the costs and benefits of the
nation’s current sentencing and incarceration policies, and whether there is evidence that alternative policies would more effectively promote public safety and
community well-being.
Recognizing that research evidence will vary in its strength and consistency,
the panel will undertake the following tasks:
1.
Describe and assess the existing research on the causes, drivers, and
social context of incarceration in the United States over the past 30-40
years. To what extent does existing research suggest that incarceration
rates were influenced by historical and contemporary changes in:
a. operations of criminal justice system and other public sector systems
that may affect rates of arrest or conviction, and nature and severity
of sanctions: such as patterns of policing, prosecution, sentencing,
prison operations, and parole practices;
b. legal and judicial policies, such as changes in law, institutional policies and practices, and judicial rulings affecting conditions for arrest,
sanctions for various crimes, drug enforcement policies, and policies
regarding parole and parole revocation; and
c. social and economic structure and political conditions, such as criminal behavior, cultural shifts, changes in political attitudes and behavior, changes in public opinion, demographic changes, and changes
in the structure of economic opportunity.
conversation. Commentators on both the left and the right are now reacting critically to the incarceration boom, partly out of concern for growing
correctional budgets, partly because of questions about the effectiveness
of incarceration in reducing crime, and partly out of misgivings about the
values that have come to dominate penal policy (e.g., Gramlich, 2013;
Kabler, 2013; Alexander, 2010). Reform, it appears, is under way. At the
state level and in the federal government, many elected officials are supporting initiatives aimed at reducing prison populations and are turning to
the research evidence for guidance. In this context, the committee hopes to
inform a critical conversation about the significance of high incarceration
rates for U.S. society and the future of the nation’s penal and social policies.
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2.
Describe and assess the existing research on the consequences of
current U.S. incarceration policies. To what extent does the research
suggest that incarceration rates have effects on:
a. crime rates, such as to what extent this is due to deterrence
and incapacitation, to rehabilitation, or to criminogenic effects of
incarceration;
b. individual behavior and outcomes, during imprisonment and afterward, such as changes in mental and physical health, prospects for
future employment, civic participation, and desistance/reoffending;
c. families, such as effects on intimate partners and children, patterns
of marriage and dating, and intergenerational effects;
d. communities, such as geographic concentrations, neighborhood effects, effects on specific racial and ethnic communities, high rates of
reentry and return in some communities, labor markets, and patterns
of crime and policing; and
e. society, such as (in addition to effects on the crime rate) the financial
and economic costs of incarceration, effects on U.S. civic life and
governance, and other near-term and longer-term social costs and
benefits.
3. Explore the public policy implications of the analysis of causes and
consequences, including evidence for the effectiveness and costs of
alternative policies affecting incarceration rates. What does the research
tell us about:
a. efficacy of policies that may affect incarceration or serve as alternatives to incarceration, including their effects on public safety and
their other social benefits and costs;
b. the cost-effectiveness of specific programmatic approaches to reducing the rate of incarceration;
c. how best to measure and assess the potential costs and benefits of
alternative policies and programs; and
d. ways to improve oversight and administration of policies, institutions,
and programs affecting the rate of incarceration.
To address the study charge, the National Research Council assembled
a committee of 20 scholars and practitioners to review and assess the research evidence. The committee members include not only criminologists
and sociologists who have conducted original research on these issues but
also representatives of other academic disciplines, including economics,
political science, psychology, law, medicine, and history, who brought to
bear different methods and perspectives. The members include those whose
professional experience gives them practical insights into the workings of
the judicial and corrections systems and the policy debates in the legislative
and executive branches of government. To aid in this study, the committee also enlisted several other scholars with specialized expertise to review
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particular subsets of questions, such as the health and public health implications of incarceration; the policy shifts and system dynamics leading to
higher incarceration rates; and the availability in prisons of rehabilitative
education, training, treatment, and work experience.
We hope the result of the committee’s work will be seen as a fair summary of what is known today about the sources of the rise of incarceration
in the United States; how it has affected people, communities, and society;
and the implications of that knowledge for public policies determining
future rates of incarceration.
A central question for public policy is whether increasing the incarceration rates affect public safety and, conversely, whether crime rates
contributed to the growth of imprisonment in America. The historical relationship between crime and incarceration is complex. On the one hand, the
decades-long rise in incarceration rates began following a substantial rise
in crime rates in the United States. Yet the growth of the prison population
continued through and after a major decline in crime rates in the 1990s.
In reviewing the evidence, the committee paid attention to the effects of
changes in state and federal policy and practice over the period of the rise
in incarceration rates, including the relationship of policy changes to crime
rates. We noted that in many instances, these policy choices reflected and
resulted from broader political and social currents, including, for a variety
of reasons, a marked tendency to resort to imprisonment, and harsh punishments generally, as society’s preferred response to crime, even when crime
rates were falling.
Understanding the impact of high rates of incarceration on crime is
challenging. Incarceration can reduce crime by incapacitating those who
would otherwise be committing crimes in free society. Incarceration may
also deter or rehabilitate those who are punished from committing future
crimes. Fear of such punishment may deter others from committing crimes.
On the other hand, the prison experience and its aftermath may in some
cases contribute to future criminal activity. The net effect of incarceration
on crime will vary depending, for example, on who is sent to prison, the
type of crime, the length of sentences, and how people are treated while
in prison and after release. Despite a large and growing body of studies
exploring the complex relationship between crime and incarceration rates
over recent decades, then, a precise quantification of the impact of high
rates of incarceration on U.S. crime rates remains a significant scientific
challenge.
In this report, we are not simply concerned with explaining changes
in the rates of incarceration. Nor are we limited to analyzing the effects
of imprisonment on individuals who serve prison sentences during the
era of high incarceration. We also consider the aggregate, cumulative
effects of the nation’s incarceration policies. America’s high rates of
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INTRODUCTION
19
incarceration have changed the meaning and consequences of a prison
sentence for those who go to prison and for the families and communities
to which they return. Over time, high incarceration rates may increase
or decrease public safety, alter the functioning of labor markets and the
economy, strengthen or weaken the fabric of communities, and skew the
distribution of income and opportunity. Higher rates of incarceration
also affect U.S. civic life, influence the nation’s pursuit of racial justice,
and tip the balance in close elections. At the most basic level, more incarceration uses resources that could be spent for other purposes. Finally,
we also assess the evidence on how high incarceration rates and their
consequences affect the quality of American democracy.
MEANINGS AND USES OF INCARCERATION
Incarceration—legally imposed deprivation of personal liberty, typically
in a facility specially designed for the purpose—is one of the most severe
forms of punishment a society can impose. Prison terms usually are reserved
for those found guilty of more serious crimes, defined as felonies by state
and federal legislatures.
The scale of incarceration can be measured in a variety of ways. The
incarceration rate is usually presented as a ratio of those in prison (or
prison and jail) at a given time to a society’s (or state’s) population. The
incarceration rates can be calculated for specific demographic groups in
the population—by race or age, for example—and for small geographic
areas, such as neighborhoods or blocks. The incarceration rate describes
the footprint of the penal system in society. The magnitude of incarceration
also might be measured by scaling prison admissions by crimes or arrests
rather than by population. Such measures reflect the impact of prosecution
and sentencing policies on the overall punitiveness of the criminal justice
system. Both kinds of statistics are reported in Chapter 2.2
We are concerned in this report not only with the numbers behind bars
but also with the nature and meaning of that experience and how it has
changed over the period of the rise in incarceration rates. How one views
the increasingly frequent resort to prison in the United States also depends
in part on how one understands the purposes served by imprisonment for
society and for the sentenced individual.3
2 The committee considered and rejected the notion that the incarceration rate might also be
presented as a ratio of those in prison to crimes reported. There is no analytical connection
between one year’s crimes and a prison population sentenced for crimes committed years ago.
3 A convenient summary history of thinking about incarceration and its uses can be found
in Simon and Sparks (2013, Chapters 1-7).
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Crime and punishment are social and legal constructs. Their nature and
meanings change over time and differ from one society (and one person) to
another. In American jurisprudence, a prison sentence serves three possible
purposes. First, the purpose of a prison sentence may be understood primarily as retribution, or “just deserts,” meaning that the severity of a given
crime requires deprivation of the liberty of the person found guilty of that
crime. Second, a prison sentence may be justified as a way of preventing
crime, either through deterrence of the individual sentenced (specific deterrence), deterrence of others in society at large who may be inclined to offend (general deterrence), or avoidance of crimes that might otherwise have
been committed by that individual absent incarceration (incapacitation).
Finally, a prison sentence may be deemed justified as a means of preventing
future crimes through the rehabilitation of the individual incarcerated. Of
course, these rationales are not mutually exclusive.
Throughout U.S. history, the emphasis on one or another rationale
for incarceration has shifted significantly, and it continues to change. As a
consequence, the conditions of confinement and the experience of returning to society also have changed. To understand the effects of the rise in
incarceration, one must examine how prison environments have changed as
the numbers of prisoners have increased and how this changed environment
may lead to different outcomes for the individuals incarcerated.
Whereas the jurisprudence of incarceration emphasizes the purposes of
retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation, criminal punishment also provides a vivid moral symbol, publicly condemning criminal
conduct. Thus the French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1984) argued that
penal law affirms basic values and helps build social solidarity. By this account, punishment activates society’s moral sentiments and reinforces the
collective sense of right and wrong. Critics have objected that, rather than
reflecting “society as a whole,” institutions of punishment under real conditions of social and economic inequality burden the disadvantaged (Spitzer,
1991; Lukes and Scull, 1983; Garland, 2013). From this perspective, prisons and jails reflect and perhaps exacerbate social inequalities rather than
promote social solidarity. Legal principle has grappled with the penal system’s innate potential for injustice. Rules of constraint were developed to
restrict the unbridled and arbitrary application of punishment. Expressed
in the language of Western jurisprudence, justice requires that society’s decision to deprive a citizen of liberty through imprisonment be constrained
by two countervailing principles: proportionality (punishment should be
tailored to the severity of the crime) and parsimony (punishment should
not be more severe than required to achieve a legitimate public purpose)
(see the discussion of guiding principles below).
Some scholars have argued that, in light of this nation’s long history
of troubled race relations, it is especially important to consider whether
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INTRODUCTION
21
prison and other punishments unfairly burden African Americans and other
minority groups. If so, the justice system only reinforces historical inequalities, thereby undermining the social compact that should undergird the
nation’s laws. Other scholars have stressed the utilitarian value of prison
for achieving socially desired ends. From this societal viewpoint, the use of
incarceration is assessed according to whether its social benefits exceed its
social costs. By this instrumental view, imprisonment can be used, for example, to contain and discourage crime—directly by confining those prone
to commit further crimes or by deterring them or, by example, others from
committing future crimes. Assessments of the effectiveness of policies favoring incarceration would therefore depend on an empirical understanding of
its purported benefit of crime prevention or other social benefits, weighed
against the direct costs of the prisons themselves and the indirect social
costs incurred by removing incarcerated individuals from society.
Prisons also can support the rehabilitation of those incarcerated so that
after release, they are more likely to live in a law-abiding way and reintegrate successfully into the rhythms of work, family, and civic engagement.
In this narrower view of the instrumental value of incarceration policies,
the effectiveness of prisons is measured by such outcomes as lower rates of
recidivism and higher rates of employment, supportive family connections,
improved health outcomes, and the standing of the formerly incarcerated as
citizens in the community. The relevant scholarly literature focuses on issues
of the availability and effectiveness of programs; the impact of the prison
environment on the self-concept, behavior, and human capital of those incarcerated; and the experience of leaving prison and returning home.
Yet another stream of scholarly inquiry examines the role of the criminal justice system, and in particular the role of prisons, in controlling entire
categories or communities of people. In this view, the laws of society and
the instruments of punishment have been used throughout history to sustain
those in power by suppressing active opposition to entrenched interests and
deterring challenges to the status quo. This scholarly literature has examined the role of the justice system—including the definition of crimes by legislatures, enforcement of laws by the police, and uses of incarceration—in
dealing with new immigrant groups, the labor and civil rights movements,
the behavior of the mentally ill, and the use of alcohol and illegal drugs, to
cite some examples. In recent years, scholars in this tradition have focused
on the impact of the justice system on racial minorities in the United States
and specifically on the impact of recent high rates of incarceration on the
aspiration for racial equality. Researchers who study the power relations of
society reflected in the criminal justice system often observe that the poor,
minorities, and the marginal are seen as dangerous or undeserving. In these
cases, the majority will support harsh punishments entailing long sentences
and the use of imprisonment for lesser offenses. The effect of incarceration
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THE GROWTH OF INCARCERATION
and other punishments used in this way may be to reproduce and deepen
existing social and economic inequalities.
Because incarceration imposes pain and loss on both those sentenced
and, frequently, their families and others, these costs also must be weighed
against its social benefits in determining when or whether the deprivation
of liberty is justified. This equation must consider as well the harms caused
by those sent to prison. These harms include those experienced by individual victims and the broader negative social effects emanating from the
criminal act. By punishing breaches of the social compact, vindicating the
victims of crime often is viewed as an important purpose of the criminal
sanction. Such an analysis of costs and benefits must be both normative and
empirical. While there are no scientific solutions to normative problems,
evidence on the effects of incarceration can inform that analysis. Moreover,
given the pain imposed by imprisonment and other harsh punishments, it
may be reasonable to minimize their use when alternatives can achieve the
same social benefits at lower cost to society. High incarceration rates may
signal that in many instances, prison is being used when alternatives would
achieve equal or better outcomes for society.
Because incarceration encompasses a range of experiences that vary
widely across individuals and from one era or place to another, its effects
are difficult to assess. This variation arises not only from differences in the
legal terms of sentences, such as length and conditions for release, but also
from differences in the conditions of confinement and after release. Harsh
or abusive prison environments can cause damage to those subjected to
them, just as environments that offer treatment and opportunities to learn
and work can provide them with hope, skills, and other assets. So while we
talk about incarceration as a single phenomenon, it in fact describes a wide
range of experiences that may have very different effects.
STUDY APPROACH
For each set of questions posed in its statement of task, the committee reviewed and weighed the published research and, where the evidence
permitted, summarized what is known about the phenomenon of high rates
of incarceration, its causes, its effects, and the implications of that knowledge for public policy. In many respects, the body of published research on
these topics is now substantial and continues to grow quickly. On some
questions, the weight of evidence from empirical studies is compelling. For
others, it is suggestive but not definitive. In still other cases, it is thin or
conflicting. An important part of our work involved identifying the limits
of current knowledge and therefore of its usefulness as a guide to the public
and policy makers.
In light of the challenges to empirical research in this area, our
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INTRODUCTION
approach was first to identify the strongest, most methodologically rigorous individual studies and then, where possible, to review multiple studies
using differing methods to establish the extent to which there is compelling
evidence, and some degree of agreement, on the causes or effects of high
rates of incarceration in the United States. Although there is something to
be learned from the experience of other affluent societies that have followed
a different path, our main point of reference was earlier in this country’s
history, when incarceration rates were a fraction of what they are today.
Guiding Principles
A discussion of values has been notably missing from the nation’s
recent policy debates on the use of prison. Although policies on criminal
punishment necessarily embody ideas about justice, fairness, and desert,
the recent policy discourse often has been characterized by overheated
rhetoric or cost-benefit calculations that mask strong but hidden normative
assumptions. Basic principles for penal reform should be transparent and
open to debate.
In the period of rising incarceration rates and public concerns about
safety, elected officials and other policy makers have argued that those committing crimes should be held accountable and punished severely. These values of offender accountability and crime control have become paramount,
and older principles that balance the tendency to harsh punishment have
receded from the policy debate. In undertaking this study, the committee
reviewed the scholarly literature on the role of prison in society and the
principles governing correctional policy generally. Based on this review,
the committee articulated a set of guiding normative principles that, if observed, would restore balance to the discussion of criminal justice values.
The following four normative principles helped the committee interpret the
scientific evidence and guided the committee in carrying out its charge to
recommend new policy alternatives:
1. Proportionality: Criminal offenses should be sentenced in proportion to their seriousness.
2. Parsimony: The period of confinement should be sufficient but not
greater than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing policy.
3. Citizenship: The conditions and consequences of imprisonment
should not be so severe or lasting as to violate one’s fundamental
status as a member of society.
4. Social justice: Prisons should be instruments of justice, and as such
their collective effect should be to promote and not undermine
society’s aspirations for a fair distribution of rights, resources, and
opportunities.
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Rather than describing the positive goals of imprisonment, each of
these principles describes a different kind of constraint. These principles
also set firm limits on one of the main impulses behind the dramatic rise
in incarceration—the desire for retribution. We recognize that the urge to
express public disapproval of criminal behavior is a legitimate purpose of
punishment, but the disapproval of crime must be expressed within the
bounds set by other normative convictions. The state’s authority to deliberately deprive people of their liberty through incarceration may be abused,
and its misuse may undermine its legitimacy. We elaborate on the scholarly
basis for each of the above principles in Chapter 12.
Understanding Causes
Researchers seeking to understand the causes of the rise in incarceration (discussed in detail in Chapters 3 and 4) have been able to identify and
estimate the effects of several proximate causes, including specific state and
federal policy choices. These include not only legislated policies but also
changes in police practice, the behavior of prosecutors and judges, and the
administration of parole, as well as other changes in how laws are implemented. These direct influences on the numbers incarcerated, however, have
a social and historical context, including public concerns about crime and
disorder, political incentives to respond to or exploit those concerns, and
a complex history and evolution of racial and ethnic group relationships
and politics.
Understanding the deeper sources of the rise in incarceration rates calls
for other kinds of evidence and analysis than those applied in exploring
proximate causes, along with a more subjective set of judgments about
how to interpret that evidence. For example, it is not always possible to
assess the motivation and incentives of leaders or voters that contributed to
putting more people behind bars. The analytical problem is complicated by
the largely autonomous decisions and actions taken by multiple actors in
the states and the federal government. Nevertheless, the committee devoted
considerable effort to exp…
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