Scale of Imprisonment / Edition 1

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Two of the nation's foremost criminal justice scholars present a comprehensive assessment of the factors behind the growth and subsequent overcrowding of American prisons. By critiquing the existing scholarship on prison scale from sociology and history to correctional forecasting and economics, they both reveal that explicit policy changes have had little influence on the increases in imprisonment in recent years and analyze whether it is possible to place limits effectively on prison population.

"The Scale of Imprisonment has an exceptionally well designed literature review of interest to public policy, criminal justice, and public law scholars. Its careful review, analysis, and critique of research is stimulating and inventive."—American Political Science Review

"The authors fram our thoughts about the soaring use of imprisonment and stimulate our thinking about the best way we as criminologists can conduct rational analysis and provide meaningful advice."—Susan Guarino-Ghezzi, Journal of Quantitative Criminology

"Zimring and Hawkins bring a long tradition of excellent criminological scholarship to the seemingly intractable problems of prisons, prison overcrowding, and the need for alternative forms of punishment."—J. C. Watkins, Jr., Choice

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Editorial Reviews

George F. Cole
The incarceration rate in the United States has more than doubled over the last decade and the trend seems to be ever upward, yet victimization studies have shown that crime rates have been essentially stable since the mid 1970s. Why has this great surge in the scale of incarceration occurred? As Zimring and Hawkins point out in their introduction, there are three kinds of questions relating to a society's use of prison as punishment. The first is whether imprisonment should be used as a criminal sanction. The second is whether particular offenders should be sent to prison. The third is the scale of society's prison enterprise compared to other criminal sanctions and to the general population. It is this last issue that is the subject of this very interesting and timely book. The question of scale is important since, as the authors note, there is no jurisprudence of imprisonment consisting of principles governing the use of this sanction. Rather, most laws stipulate when offenders may be incarcerated rather than when they must be incarcerated. As scholars have emphasized the criminal justice system is based upon law but there is wide discretion given to the police, prosecutors, judges, and correctional officials who administer the system. Likewise, the choice of prison rather than an alternative to incarceration depends in part upon the availabil- ity of these other sanctions. Finally, there are no principles ranking crimes according to their seriousness so that the amount of punishment is also an open question. In summary, there is no correspondence between jurisprudential principles and the extent that prison is utilized as a punishment. In Part One the authors present a range of perspectives relating to the question of scale by analyzing scholarship from sociology, history, correctional forecasting, and the policy sciences. The theories and approaches of scholars such as Rusche and Kirchheimer, Blumstein, Foucault, Wilson, and Becker are examined and critiqued. The second half of the book examines the scale of imprisonment in the U.S. during recent years by first examining five social and demographic variables often given as the reason for fluctuations in prison populations. These factors concern the crime rate, politics and public opinion, age, economic forces, and drug use. Each of these explanations purporting to explain changes in the incarcera- tion rate is found wanting. The authors point to the problems inherent in aggregate analysis of national data given the heteroge- neity of American society and the fact that the country is made up of fifty-one different political units, each with its own incarcer- ation policy. Page 5 follows: State and regional variations are next examined. Incarcera- tion rates continue to be highest in the South and lowest in the upper Midwest, but contrasts among the regions must also be qualified. To speak of regional patterns is really to speak of an aggregate of individual governmental decisions in each of the states composing the region, thus it is necessary to look at state- level data. It is among the states that comparative analysis is most puzzling. One can point to contiguous states with similar socio- economic characteristics and crime levels, yet with great differ- ences in their incarceration rates. One can speculate about the public opinion, legislative politics, and the budgetary process among other factors influencing decisions about the scale of incarceration. The authors do not fully explore these factors; rather they note that over time there has been a convergence of the states toward a single national trend. These questions require further investigation. In the final chapter the authors call for a political economy of imprisonment. They restate in economic terms the relationship between prison capacity and prison population, and the intergovern- mental distribution of authority regarding prison population. They thus examine questions concerning the marginal cost of each additional prisoner, issues relating to construction decisions, and the fact that local judges may view prison space as a free resource. The authors end the book by outlining a research agenda on the scale of imprisonment. THE SCALE OF IMPRISONMENT is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of a pressing public policy issue. With incarceration rates continuing to climb, an ever greater share of state resources is being allocated to corrections. In many states the costs of incarceration are greater than that of public higher education yet the building of new prisons continues. At some point questions will be raised by legislators and taxpayers as to the value of the incarceration policies of the past decade.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226983547
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1993
  • Series: Studies in Crime and Justice Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 258
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Franklin E. Zimring is professor of law and director of the Earl Warren Legal Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, where Gordon Hawkins is a senior fellow. Their many books include Capital Punishment and the American Agenda.

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Table of Contents

Part One: The Issue of Scale
1. Imprisonment as a Social Process: Rusche, Kirchheimer, and Blumstein
2. Imprisonment as Historical Process: Rothman, Foucault, and Ignatieff
3. Imprisonment as a Natural Outcome: The Art or Craft of Correctional Forecasting
4. Imprisonment as a Policy Tool: Prescriptive Approaches
Part Two: The American Experience
5. Five Theories in Search of the Facts
6. Fifty-One Different Countries: State and Regional Experience
7. Policy or Process?
8. Decarceration Policies and Their Impact
9. Toward a Political Economy of Imprisonment

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