Crime, Punishment, and Politics in the United States

Marie Gottschalk in Dissent:

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 03 10.02 Throughout American history, politicians and public officials have exploited public anxieties about crime and disorder for political gain. The difference today is that these political strategies and public anxieties have come together in the perfect storm. They have radically transformed U.S. penal policies, spurring an unprecedented prison boom. Since the 1970s, the U.S. prisoner population has increased by more than fivefold. Today, the United States is the world’s warden, incarcerating a higher proportion of its people than any other country—or about one out of every hundred adults. A staggering seven million people—or one in every thirty-two adults—are either incarcerated, on parole or probation, or under some other form of state supervision.

These figures understate the enormous and disproportionate impact that this unprecedented social experiment has had on certain groups in U.S. society. If current trends continue, one in three black men and one in six Hispanic men will spend some time in jail or prison during their lives.

Public dismay over the crushing economic burden of incarcerating and monitoring so many people is growing. But does this dismay herald the beginning of the end of the prison boom? The answer is not simple.

More here.