Big Prisons, Big Dreams: Crime and the Failure of America's Penal System

By Michael J. Lynch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

Explaining Prison Growth in the United States
THE MATERIALIST PERSPECTIVE

THERE ARE A number of different mechanisms for understanding and explaining the extraordinary rate of prison growth experienced in the United States over the past three decades. It is common to read or hear explanations of the following kinds:

1. Imprisonment responds to crime. In this view, imprisonment ex-
panded in response to a growing crime problem. As the problem
of crime in the United States got worse, imprisonment grew
at an increased rate both in an effort to incapacitate and deter
criminal offenders.

2. Imprisonment responds to public demand. In a democracy, it can be
argued that trends in imprisonment should follow public de-
mand. Public demand models argue that the expanded use of
imprisonment has been fuelled by public attitudes concerning
punitiveness toward criminals. As public punitiveness expanded,
so too did America's system of imprisonment.

3. Political responses. Similar to the public-demand model, one ver-
sion of the political model argues that public demands for in-
creased punishment encourages politicians to put in place en-
hanced crime control, which, in turn, accelerated the use of
imprisonment. A second suggests that political interests may also
reflect pressures and incentives that originate in the private sec-
tor. This position takes account of political campaign contribu-
tions, lobbying efforts, and other forms of industry influence.

-110-

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Big Prisons, Big Dreams: Crime and the Failure of America's Penal System
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Dedication v
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - Prisons and Crime 20
  • Chapter 3 - The Growth of America's Prison System 49
  • Chapter 4 - Raising Questions About America's Big Prison System 82
  • Chapter 5 - Explaining Prison Growth in the United States 110
  • Chapter 6 - Prison Effects 146
  • Chapter 7 - The Imprisonment Binge and Crime 173
  • Chapter 8 - The End of Oil and the Future of American Prisons ? 203
  • Chapter 9 - A Consuming Culture 220
  • Notes 229
  • References 241
  • Index 253
  • About the Author 259
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