The Politics of Imprisonment: How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders

The Politics of Imprisonment: How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders

The Politics of Imprisonment: How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders

The Politics of Imprisonment: How the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders

Synopsis

The attention devoted to the unprecedented levels of imprisonment in the United States obscure an obvious but understudied aspect of criminal justice: there is no consistent punishment policy across the U.S. It is up to individual states to administer their criminal justice systems, and the differences among them are vast. For example, while some states enforce mandatory minimum sentencing, some even implementing harsh and degrading practices, others rely on community sanctions. What accounts for these differences?

The Politics of Imprisonmentseeks to document and explain variation in American penal sanctioning, drawing out the larger lessons for America's overreliance on imprisonment. Grounding her study in a comparison of how California, Washington, and New York each developed distinctive penal regimes in the late 1960s and early 1970s--a critical period in the history of crime control policy and a time of unsettling social change--Vanessa Barker concretely demonstrates that subtle but crucial differences in political institutions, democratic traditions, and social trust shape the way American states punish offenders. Barker argues that the apparent link between public participation, punitiveness, and harsh justice is not universal but dependent upon the varying institutional contexts and patterns of civic engagement within the U.S. and across liberal democracies.

A bracing examination of the relationship between punishment and democracy,The Politics of Imprisonmentnot only suggests that increased public participation in the political process can support and sustain less coercive penal regimes, but also warns that it is precisely a lack of civic engagement that may underpin mass incarceration in the United States.

Excerpt

Driving through the light rain, we sat stone-cold silent, numbed by our visit to a maximum security prison. Located deep in the pine forest, hours away from town, this “close management” prison confines inmates for nearly twenty-three hours a day in near total isolation. An hour has passed before anyone spoke. The first words were barely audible. “Why?” Someone asked plaintively.

This book is motivated by a desire to understand this profound human experience. When someone breaks the law, how do we as a society respond? Are we afraid, angry, resentful, vengeful? Are we compassionate or merciful? What do penal sanctions look like? How do they represent justice? The value of human life? How do they express our fear and indignation? Our humanity? Our indifference?

This book has been inspired by the work of David Garland. He has written extensively about punishment as a complex social institution and its centrality to social science research. I have been deeply influenced by this view. I express my sincere thanks for his generosity, insight, and encouragement. His critical comments on various research memos, the dissertation upon which this book is based, and subsequent book chapters have been invaluable.

This study would not have been possible without the generous financial support provided by the National Science Foundation, the Public Policy Institute of California, New York University, Florida . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.