The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America

The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America

by Todd R. Clear, Natasha A. Frost
     
 

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Over the last 40 years, the US penal system has grown at an unprecedented rate—five times larger than in the past and grossly out of scale with the rest of the world. In The Punishment Imperative, eminent criminologists Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost argue that America’s move to mass incarceration from the 1960s to the early 2000s was more than just a

Overview

Over the last 40 years, the US penal system has grown at an unprecedented rate—five times larger than in the past and grossly out of scale with the rest of the world. In The Punishment Imperative, eminent criminologists Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost argue that America’s move to mass incarceration from the 1960s to the early 2000s was more than just a response to crime or a collection of policies adopted in isolation; it was a grand social experiment. Tracing a wide array of trends related to the criminal justice system, this book charts the rise of penal severity in America and speculates that a variety of forces—fiscal, political, and evidentiary—have finally come together to bring this great social experiment to an end. The authors stress that while the doubling of the crime rate in the late 1960s represented one of the most pressing social problems at the time, it was instead the way crime posed a political problem—and thereby offered a political opportunity—that became the basis for the great rise in punishment. Clear and Frost contend that the public’s growing realization that the severe policies themselves, not growing crime rates, were the main cause of increased incarceration eventually led to a surge of interest in taking a more rehabilitative, pragmatic, and cooperative approach to dealing with criminal offenders that still continues to this day. Part historical study, part forward-looking policy analysis, The Punishment Imperative is a compelling study of a generation of crime and punishment in America.       Instructor's Guide       

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/14/2013
Criminologists Clear (Imprisoning Communities) and Frost (The Punitive State) offer an accessible study of mass incarceration in the U.S. that is theoretically sophisticated and rich in statistical data. Though the prose is sometimes uninspired, the authors make up for this with an unsparing analysis that traces a historical arc over the last 50 years, identifying and indicting the titular “punishment imperative” as a “grand social experiment” that put politics (in the form of tough-on-crime legislation) ahead of an “evidence-based” approach, which recognizes that incarceration is neither the only, nor the best, instrument for dealing with crime. Mandatory sentencing, the “war on drugs,” “three-strikes” laws, and the American punitive impulse all come in for intense scrutiny. Condemning the system’s disruption of community cohesion through its implicit racism and the institutional hurdles it creates, the authors propose an alternative program that would replace the prison industrial complex with a system that is “smarter on crime.” A meticulously organized concluding chapter lays out their proposals with an eye toward reducing sentences and making them more humane for nonviolent offenders. The book merits serious consideration beyond an academic audience. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"Backed up by the best science, Todd Clear and
Natasha Frost make a compelling case for why the nation’s forty-year embrace of the punitive spirit has been morally bankrupt and endangered public safety.
But this is far more than an exposé of correctional failure. Recognizing that a policy turning point is at hand, Clear and Frost provide a practical blueprint for choosing a different correctional future—counsel that is wise and should be widely followed."-Francis Cullen,Distinguished Research Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati

"For forty years, the heavy hammer of criminal punishment has been the nation's primary tool for addressing social problems.
And when the hammer has failed to fix these problems or does further damage,
we've responded by grabbing an even bigger hammer. In The Punishment Imperative, Todd Clear and Natasha Frost convincingly demonstrate that the hammer has, finally, become too heavy for us to raise. They offer a masterful dissection of this 'grand social experiment';
showing how we embarked on this strategy, its costs to individuals and communities, and a clear-headed path to real reform. The Punishment Imperative is neither armchair critique nor utopian vision, but rather an eye-opening and truly authoritative treatment by two true experts on punishment's past, present, and future."-Christopher Uggen,co-author of Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy

“This compelling narrative helps us better understand the history, trajectory, and complexity of the politics of punishment in the United States over the past four decades. At a time of impending shifts in the correctional landscape in this country, this impressive volume should be on the reading list not only for scholars and students of mass incarceration, but also for corrections practitioners and policymakers everywhere who care about a new vision for America's penal system.”-Laurie O. Robinson,Former Assistant Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice

"This well-documented volume will interest anyone connected to our criminal justice system and may appeal to general readers concerned about the subject of incarceration."-Frances O. Sandiford ,Library Journal

"Part historical study, part forward-looking policy analysis, The Punishment Imperative is a compelling study of a generation of crime and punishment in America."-Douglas A. Berman,Sentencing Law and Policy

"Criminologists Clear (Imprisoning Communities) and Frost (The Punitive State) offer an accessible study of mass incarceration in the U.S. that is theoretically sophisticated and rich in statistical data . . . . A meticulously organized concluding chapter lays out their proposals with an eye toward reducing sentences and making them more humane for nonviolent offenders. The book merits serious consideration beyond an academic audience."-Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
★ 11/15/2013
Clear (dean, Rutgers Univ. Sch. of Criminal Justice) and Frost (Northeastern Univ. Sch. of Criminology & Criminal Justice) point out that the American prison population has grown hugely over the past 40 years. In six chapters they show how this has happened, from get-tough policies on crime to stricter drug laws and mandatory sentences limiting judicial discretion. The authors call these combined circumstances "the punishment imperative," a grand social experiment that they believe has failed. It has simply become too costly for states to maintain this prison growth; the war on crime no longer excuses this approach. In Chapter 7, the authors discuss an evolving outlook on crime and prisons and a method they obviously prefer that they call "justice reinvestment," which encompasses alternative sentencing, drug and alcohol addiction programs, and early intervention, among other methods. The authors admit that this strategy may not be the lasting solution, but they consider this reinvestment an indication that the American justice system is looking to new means of handling crime and punishment. VERDICT This well-documented volume will interest anyone connected to our criminal justice system and may appeal to general readers concerned about the subject of incarceration.—Frances O. Sandiford, formerly with Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, NY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781479861187
Publisher:
New York University Press
Publication date:
11/01/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
269
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Todd R. Clear is Provost at Rutgers University, Newark. He is the author of Imprisoning Communities and What Is Community Justice? and is the founding editor of the journal Criminology & Public Policy.

Natasha A. Frost is Associate Dean and Associate Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Her books include The Punitive State and Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice Policy.

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