Do Prisons Make Us Safer?: The Benefits and Costs of the Prison Boom

Russell Sage Foundation
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The number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails more than quadrupled between 1975 and 2005, reaching the unprecedented level of over two million inmates today. Annual corrections spending now exceeds 64 billion dollars, and many of the social and economic burdens resulting from mass incarceration fall disproportionately on minority communities. Yet crime rates across the country have also dropped considerably during this time period. In Do Prisons Make Us Safer? leading experts systematically examine the complex repercussions of the massive surge in our nation's prison system. Do Prisons Make Us Safer? asks whether it makes sense to maintain such a large and costly prison system. The contributors expand the scope of previous analyses to include a number of underexplored dimensions, such as the fiscal impact on states, effects on children, and employment prospects for former inmates. Steven Raphael and Michael Stoll assess the reasons behind the explosion in incarceration rates and find that criminal behavior itself accounts for only a small fraction of the prison boom. Eighty-five percent of the trend can be attributed to "get tough on crime" policies that have increased both the likelihood of a prison sentence and the length of time served. Shawn Bushway shows that while prison time effectively deters and incapacitates criminals in the short term, long-term benefits such as overall crime reduction or individual rehabilitation are less clear cut. Amy Lerman conducts a novel investigation into the effects of imprisonment on criminal psychology and uncovers striking evidence that placement in a high security penitentiary leads to increased rates of violence and anger—particularly in the case of first time or minor offenders. Rucker Johnson documents the spill-over effects of parental incarceration—children who have had a parent serve prison time exhibit more behavioral problems than their peers. Policies to enhance the well-being of these children are essential to breaking a devastating cycle of poverty, unemployment, and crime. John Donohue's economic calculations suggest that alternative social welfare policies such as education and employment programs for at-risk youth may lower crime just as effectively as prisons, but at a much lower human cost. The cost of hiring a new teacher is roughly equal to the cost of incarcerating an additional inmate. The United States currently imprisons a greater proportion of its citizens than any other nation in the world. Until now, however, we've lacked systematic and comprehensive data on how this prison boom has affected families, communities, and our nation as a whole. Do Prisons Make Us Safer? provides a highly nuanced and deeply engaging account of one of the most dramatic policy developments in recent U.S. history.
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About the author

STEVEN RAPHAEL is professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. MICHAEL A. STOLL is professor and chair of public policy in the School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles. CONTRIBUTORS: Shawn D. Bushway, John J. Donohue III, John W. Ellwood, Joshua Guetzkow, Harry J. Holzer, Rucker C. Johnson, Amy E. Lerman, Raymond Paternoster, Steven Raphael, Michael A. Stoll, David F. Weiman, and Christopher Weiss
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Publisher
Russell Sage Foundation
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Published on
Jan 22, 2009
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Pages
364
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ISBN
9781610444651
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / Microeconomics
Law / General
Social Science / Criminology
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Between 1975 and 2007, the American incarceration rate increased nearly fivefold, a historic increase that puts the United States in a league of its own among advanced economies. We incarcerate more people today than we ever have, and we stand out as the nation that most frequently uses incarceration to punish those who break the law. What factors explain the dramatic rise in incarceration rates in such a short period of time? In Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? Steven Raphael and Michael A. Stoll analyze the shocking expansion of America’s prison system and illustrate the pressing need to rethink mass incarceration in this country. Raphael and Stoll carefully evaluate changes in crime patterns, enforcement practices and sentencing laws to reach a sobering conclusion: So many Americans are in prison today because we have chosen, through our public policies, to put them there. They dispel the notion that a rise in crime rates fueled the incarceration surge; in fact, crime rates have steadily declined to all-time lows. There is also little evidence for other factors commonly offered to explain the prison boom, such as the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill since the 1950s, changing demographics, or the crack-cocaine epidemic. By contrast, Raphael and Stoll demonstrate that legislative changes to a relatively small set of sentencing policies explain nearly all prison growth since the 1980s. So-called tough on crime laws, including mandatory minimum penalties and repeat offender statutes, have increased the propensity to punish more offenders with lengthier prison sentences. Raphael and Stoll argue that the high-incarceration regime has inflicted broad social costs, particularly among minority communities, who form a disproportionate share of the incarcerated population. Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? ends with a powerful plea to consider alternative crime control strategies, such as expanded policing, drug court programs, and sentencing law reform, which together can end our addiction to incarceration and still preserve public safety. As states confront the budgetary and social costs of the incarceration boom, Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? provides a revealing and accessible guide to the policies that created the era of mass incarceration and what we can do now to end it.
Over the last thirty years, the prison population in the United States has increased more than seven-fold to over two million people, including vastly disproportionate numbers of minorities and people with little education. For some racial and educational groups, incarceration has become a depressingly regular experience, and prison culture and influence pervade their communities. Almost 60 percent of black male high school drop-outs in their early thirties have spent time in prison. In Punishment and Inequality in America, sociologist Bruce Western explores the recent era of mass incarceration and the serious social and economic consequences it has wrought. Punishment and Inequality in America dispels many of the myths about the relationships among crime, imprisonment, and inequality. While many people support the increase in incarceration because of recent reductions in crime, Western shows that the decrease in crime rates in the 1990s was mostly fueled by growth in city police forces and the pacification of the drug trade. Getting "tough on crime" with longer sentences only explains about 10 percent of the fall in crime, but has come at a significant cost. Punishment and Inequality in America reveals a strong relationship between incarceration and severely dampened economic prospects for former inmates. Western finds that because of their involvement in the penal system, young black men hardly benefited from the economic boom of the 1990s. Those who spent time in prison had much lower wages and employment rates than did similar men without criminal records. The losses from mass incarceration spread to the social sphere as well, leaving one out of ten young black children with a father behind bars by the end of the 1990s, thereby helping perpetuate the damaging cycle of broken families, poverty, and crime. The recent explosion of imprisonment is exacting heavy costs on American society and exacerbating inequality. Whereas college or the military were once the formative institutions in young men's lives, prison has increasingly usurped that role in many communities. Punishment and Inequality in America profiles how the growth in incarceration came about and the toll it is taking on the social and economic fabric of many American communities.
“Ideas of economic democracy are very much in the air, as they should be, with increasing urgency in the midst of today’s serious crises. Richard Wolff’s constructive and innovative ideas suggest new and promising foundations for much more authentic democracy and sustainable and equitable development, ideas that can be implemented directly and carried forward. A very valuable contribution in troubled times.”—Noam Chomsky

"Probably America's most prominent Marxist economist."—The New York Times

Capitalism as a system has spawned deepening economic crisis alongside its bought-and-paid-for political establishment. Neither serves the needs of our society. Whether it is secure, well-paid, and meaningful jobs or a sustainable relationship with the natural environment that we depend on, our society is not delivering the results people need and deserve.

One key cause for this intolerable state of affairs is the lack of genuine democracy in our economy as well as in our politics. The solution requires the institution of genuine economic democracy, starting with workers managing their own workplaces, as the basis for a genuine political democracy.

Here Richard D. Wolff lays out a hopeful and concrete vision of how to make that possible, addressing the many people who have concluded economic inequality and politics as usual can no longer be tolerated and are looking for a concrete program of action.

Richard D. Wolff is professor of Economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently a visiting professor at the New School University in New York. Wolff is the author of many books, including Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It. He hosts the weekly hour-long radio program Economic Update on WBAI (Pacifica Radio) and writes regularly for The Guardian, Truthout.org, and the MRZine.


With the introduction of more aggressive policing, prosecution, and sentencing since the late 1970s, the number of Americans in prison has increased dramatically. While many have credited these "get tough" policies with lowering violent crime rates, we are only just beginning to understand the broader costs of mass incarceration. In Barriers to Reentry? experts on labor markets and the criminal justice system investigate how imprisonment affects ex-offenders' employment prospects, and how the challenge of finding work after prison affects the likelihood that they will break the law again and return to prison. The authors examine the intersection of imprisonment and employment from many vantage points, including employer surveys, interviews with former prisoners, and state data on prison employment programs and post-incarceration employment rates. Ex-prisoners face many obstacles to re-entering the job market—from employers' fears of negligent hiring lawsuits to the lost opportunities for acquiring work experience while incarcerated. In a study of former prisoners, Becky Pettit and Christopher Lyons find that employment among this group was actually higher immediately after their release than before they were incarcerated, but that over time their employment rate dropped to their pre-imprisonment levels. Exploring the demand side of the equation, Harry Holzer, Steven Raphael, and Michael Stoll report on their survey of employers in Los Angeles about the hiring of former criminals, in which they find strong evidence of pervasive hiring discrimination against ex-prisoners. Devah Pager finds similar evidence of employer discrimination in an experiment in which Milwaukee employers were presented with applications for otherwise comparable jobseekers, some of whom had criminal records and some of whom did not. Such findings are particularly troubling in light of research by Steven Raphael and David Weiman which shows that ex-criminals are more likely to violate parole if they are unemployed. In a concluding chapter, Bruce Western warns that prison is becoming the norm for too many inner-city minority males; by preventing access to the labor market, mass incarceration is exacerbating inequality. Western argues that, ultimately, the most successful policies are those that keep young men out of prison in the first place. Promoting social justice and reducing recidivism both demand greater efforts to reintegrate former prisoners into the workforce. Barriers to Reentry? cogently underscores one of the major social costs of incarceration, and builds a compelling case for rethinking the way our country rehabilitates criminals.
Between 1975 and 2007, the American incarceration rate increased nearly fivefold, a historic increase that puts the United States in a league of its own among advanced economies. We incarcerate more people today than we ever have, and we stand out as the nation that most frequently uses incarceration to punish those who break the law. What factors explain the dramatic rise in incarceration rates in such a short period of time? In Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? Steven Raphael and Michael A. Stoll analyze the shocking expansion of America’s prison system and illustrate the pressing need to rethink mass incarceration in this country. Raphael and Stoll carefully evaluate changes in crime patterns, enforcement practices and sentencing laws to reach a sobering conclusion: So many Americans are in prison today because we have chosen, through our public policies, to put them there. They dispel the notion that a rise in crime rates fueled the incarceration surge; in fact, crime rates have steadily declined to all-time lows. There is also little evidence for other factors commonly offered to explain the prison boom, such as the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill since the 1950s, changing demographics, or the crack-cocaine epidemic. By contrast, Raphael and Stoll demonstrate that legislative changes to a relatively small set of sentencing policies explain nearly all prison growth since the 1980s. So-called tough on crime laws, including mandatory minimum penalties and repeat offender statutes, have increased the propensity to punish more offenders with lengthier prison sentences. Raphael and Stoll argue that the high-incarceration regime has inflicted broad social costs, particularly among minority communities, who form a disproportionate share of the incarcerated population. Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? ends with a powerful plea to consider alternative crime control strategies, such as expanded policing, drug court programs, and sentencing law reform, which together can end our addiction to incarceration and still preserve public safety. As states confront the budgetary and social costs of the incarceration boom, Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? provides a revealing and accessible guide to the policies that created the era of mass incarceration and what we can do now to end it.
The rapid rise in the proportion of foreign-born residents in the United States since the mid-1960s is one of the most important demographic events of the past fifty years. The increase in immigration, especially among the less-skilled and less-educated, has prompted fears that the newcomers may have depressed the wages and employment of the native-born, burdened state and local budgets, and slowed the U.S. economy as a whole. Would the poverty rate be lower in the absence of immigration? How does the undocumented status of an increasing segment of the foreign-born population impact wages in the United States? In Immigration, Poverty, and Socioeconomic Inequality, noted labor economists David Card and Steven Raphael and an interdisciplinary team of scholars provide a comprehensive assessment of the costs and benefits of the latest era of immigration to the United States Immigration, Poverty, and Socioeconomic Inequality rigorously explores shifts in population trends, labor market competition, and socioeconomic segregation to investigate how the recent rise in immigration affects economic disadvantage in the United States. Giovanni Peri analyzes the changing skill composition of immigrants to the United States over the past two decades to assess their impact on the labor market outcomes of native-born workers. Despite concerns over labor market competition, he shows that the overall effect has been benign for most native groups. Moreover, immigration appears to have had negligible impacts on native poverty rates. Ethan Lewis examines whether differences in English proficiency explain this lack of competition between immigrant and native-born workers. He finds that parallel Spanish-speaking labor markets emerge in areas where Spanish speakers are sufficiently numerous, thereby limiting the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born residents. While the increase in the number of immigrants may not necessarily hurt the job prospects of native-born workers, low-skilled migration appears to suppress the wages of immigrants themselves. Michael Stoll shows that linguistic isolation and residential crowding in specific metropolitan areas has contributed to high poverty rates among immigrants. Have these economic disadvantages among low-skilled immigrants increased their dependence on the U.S. social safety net? Marianne Bitler and Hilary Hoynes analyze the consequences of welfare reform, which limited eligibility for major cash assistance programs. Their analysis documents sizable declines in program participation for foreign-born families since the 1990s and suggests that the safety net has become less effective in lowering child poverty among immigrant households. As the debate over immigration reform reemerges on the national agenda, Immigration, Poverty, and Socioeconomic Inequality provides a timely and authoritative review of the immigrant experience in the United States. With its wealth of data and intriguing hypotheses, the volume is an essential addition to the field of immigration studies. A Volume in the National Poverty Center Series on Poverty and Public Policy
With the introduction of more aggressive policing, prosecution, and sentencing since the late 1970s, the number of Americans in prison has increased dramatically. While many have credited these "get tough" policies with lowering violent crime rates, we are only just beginning to understand the broader costs of mass incarceration. In Barriers to Reentry? experts on labor markets and the criminal justice system investigate how imprisonment affects ex-offenders' employment prospects, and how the challenge of finding work after prison affects the likelihood that they will break the law again and return to prison. The authors examine the intersection of imprisonment and employment from many vantage points, including employer surveys, interviews with former prisoners, and state data on prison employment programs and post-incarceration employment rates. Ex-prisoners face many obstacles to re-entering the job market—from employers' fears of negligent hiring lawsuits to the lost opportunities for acquiring work experience while incarcerated. In a study of former prisoners, Becky Pettit and Christopher Lyons find that employment among this group was actually higher immediately after their release than before they were incarcerated, but that over time their employment rate dropped to their pre-imprisonment levels. Exploring the demand side of the equation, Harry Holzer, Steven Raphael, and Michael Stoll report on their survey of employers in Los Angeles about the hiring of former criminals, in which they find strong evidence of pervasive hiring discrimination against ex-prisoners. Devah Pager finds similar evidence of employer discrimination in an experiment in which Milwaukee employers were presented with applications for otherwise comparable jobseekers, some of whom had criminal records and some of whom did not. Such findings are particularly troubling in light of research by Steven Raphael and David Weiman which shows that ex-criminals are more likely to violate parole if they are unemployed. In a concluding chapter, Bruce Western warns that prison is becoming the norm for too many inner-city minority males; by preventing access to the labor market, mass incarceration is exacerbating inequality. Western argues that, ultimately, the most successful policies are those that keep young men out of prison in the first place. Promoting social justice and reducing recidivism both demand greater efforts to reintegrate former prisoners into the workforce. Barriers to Reentry? cogently underscores one of the major social costs of incarceration, and builds a compelling case for rethinking the way our country rehabilitates criminals.
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