Incarceration

  • David Harding
  • Stephen Raphael
  • Joan Petersilia

Leaders: David Harding, Stephen Raphael, Joan Petersilia

Since the mid-1970s, the United States has experienced a precipitous rise in incarceration, with about 2.3 million U.S. adults now incarcerated in state and federal prisons. In recent years, there has been increasing pressure to wind down this commitment to mass imprisonment, and it’s accordingly important to study ways to reintegrate successfully. The Incarceration RG is tasked with monitoring and evaluating the relationship between poverty and sentencing, parole reform, probation, reintegration, and recidivism.

Poverty and the decline in prison population: Will the ongoing decline in California’s prison population bring about an increase in homelessness, mental health service use, and other poverty-relevant outcomes? This line of research will reveal whether ongoing declines in incarceration should be coordinated with increased funding for programs that may substitute for incarceration.

Arrests, race, and poverty: Is reducing arrests the only way to reduce criminal bookings (and the employment-reducing effects of such bookings)? There may be another way.

Incarceration - CPI Research

Title Author Media
Keeping Track: California Prison Downsizing and Its Impact on Local Criminal Justice Systems Joan Petersilia

Keeping Track: California Prison Downsizing and Its Impact on Local Criminal Justice Systems

Author: Joan Petersilia
Publisher: Harvard Law and Policy Review
Date: 06/2014

Passage of California’s Public Safety Realignment Act (AB 109) initiated the most sweeping correctional experiment in recent history. Launched on October 1, 2011, Realignment shifted responsibility for most lower-level offenders from the state to California’s 58 counties. By mid-2013, more than 100,000 felons had been diverted from state prison or parole to county jail or probation.

This report summarizes the results of interviews conducted with California stakeholders responsible for implementing the law. Stanford Law School researchers conducted 125 interviews in 21 counties to produce a snapshot of how California is faring under Realignment so far. We talked with police, sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation and parole agents, victim advocates, offenders, and social service representatives. Our goal was to determine how Realignment had influenced their agency’s work and what changes they would make to the law.

Our interviews revealed a justice system undergoing remarkable changes, arguably unprecedented in depth and scope. Stakeholders’ opinions varied widely, and their comments reflected their role in the system more than the county they represented. Overall, probation officials were the most enthusiastic champions of Realignment, welcoming the momentum the legislation provided their rehabilitation focus. Probation departments have opened day reporting centers, expanded the use of risk assessment tools, and worked hard with community partners to establish quality evidence-based programs for offenders. Public defenders are also optimistic but expressed concerns about the longer county jail terms their clients face and the conditions under which they are served. Conversely, prosecuting attorneys generally gave Realignment negative reviews, lamenting their loss of discretion under the law. Judges expressed mixed opinions, although most were concerned about a loss of discretion and said AB 109 had greatly increased the courts’ workload. Law enforcement — both front line police and sheriffs — varied more than any other group in their assessment of Realignment, with their opinions largely influenced by local jail capacity. While most police applauded the spirit of Realignment, including the expansion of local control and treatment options for offenders, all of those interviewed worried about declining public safety. Sheriffs were challenged by overloaded county jails, which in many counties have been strained by a flood of inmates and a tougher criminal population that has increased the likelihood of jail violence. Sheriffs also noted that longer jail stays were challenging their ability to provide adequate medical and mental health care, and that crowding was forcing them to release some offenders early. On the positive end of the spectrum, most stakeholders said Realignment had spawned increased collaboration at all levels of the criminal justice system and a more holistic view of offender management.

Stakeholders recommended several changes to Realignment, suggesting that the Legislature: (1) allow an offender’s entire criminal history to be considered when determining whether the county or the state will supervise a parolee; (2) cap county jail sentences at a maximum of three years; and (3) permit certain repeated technical violations to be punished with a prison sentence. Other top concerns related to jail overcrowding, the lack of a statewide offender database for probationers, the disuse of split sentencing, and a lack of funding for evidence-based programming, particularly for mentally ill offenders.

The Mark of a Criminal Record Devah Pager

The Mark of a Criminal Record

Author: Devah Pager
Publisher: American Journal of Sociology
Date:
Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration

Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration

Author:
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
Date:
The Mark of a Criminal Record Devah Pager

The Mark of a Criminal Record

Author: Devah Pager
Publisher: American Journal of Sociology
Date:
Race, Ethnicity, and Youth Perceptions of Criminal Injustice John Hagan, Carla Shedd, and Monique R. Payne

Race, Ethnicity, and Youth Perceptions of Criminal Injustice

Author: John Hagan, Carla Shedd, and Monique R. Payne
Publisher:
Date:

incarceration - CPI Affiliates

Robert J. Sampson's picture Robert J. Sampson Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences
Harvard University
Steven Raphael's picture Steven Raphael Professor of Public Policy; James D. Marver Chair in Public Policy
University of California, Berkeley
Devah Pager's picture Devah Pager Professor of Sociology, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Harvard University

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Incarceration - Other Research

Title Author Media
Racial Disparities in Incarceration Increase Acceptance of Punitive Policies Rebecca C. Hetey, Jennifer L. Eberhardt

Racial Disparities in Incarceration Increase Acceptance of Punitive Policies

Author: Rebecca C. Hetey, Jennifer L. Eberhardt
Publisher: Psychological Science
Date: 08/2014

During the past few decades, punitive crime policies have led to explosive growth in the United States prison population. Such policies have contributed to unprecedented incarceration rates for Blacks in particular. In this article, we consider an unexamined relationship between racial disparities and policy reform. Rather than treating racial disparities as an outcome to be measured, we exposed people to real and extreme racial disparities and observed how this drove their support for harsh criminal-justice policies. In two experiments, we manipulated the racial composition of prisons: When the penal institution was represented as “more Black,” people were more concerned about crime and expressed greater acceptance of punitive policies than when the penal institution was represented as “less Black.” Exposure to extreme racial disparities, then, can lead people to support the very policies that produce those disparities, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, Steve Redburn

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

Author: Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, Steve Redburn
Publisher: Washington, D.C.: National Research Council
Date: 04/2014

After decades of stability from the 1920s to the early 1970s, the rate of imprisonment in the United States more than quadrupled during the last four decades. The U.S. penal population of 2.2 million adults is by far the largest in the world. Just under one-quarter of the world's prisoners are held in American prisons. The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly 1 out of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is 5 to 10 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and other democracies. The U.S. prison population is largely drawn from the most disadvantaged part of the nation's population: mostly men under age 40, disproportionately minority, and poorly educated. Prisoners often carry additional deficits of drug and alcohol addictions, mental and physical illnesses, and lack of work preparation or experience. The growth of incarceration in the United States during four decades has prompted numerous critiques and a growing body of scientific knowledge about what prompted the rise and what its consequences have been for the people imprisoned, their families and communities, and for U.S. society.

Invisible Men Becky Pettit

Invisible Men

Author: Becky Pettit
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
Date: 06/2012

For African American men without a high school diploma, being in prison or jail is more common than being employed—a sobering reality that calls into question post-Civil Rights era social gains. Nearly 70 percent of young black men will be imprisoned at some point in their lives, and poor black men with low levels of education make up a disproportionate share of incarcerated Americans. In Invisible Men, sociologist Becky Pettit demonstrates another vexing fact of mass incarceration: most national surveys do not account for prison inmates, a fact that results in a misrepresentation of U.S. political, economic, and social conditions in general and black progress in particular. Invisible Men provides an eye-opening examination of how mass incarceration has concealed decades of racial inequality.

Race and the Fragility of the Legal Distinction between Juveniles and Adults Aneeta Rattan, Cynthia S. Levine, Carol S. Dweck, Jennifer L. Eberhardt

Race and the Fragility of the Legal Distinction between Juveniles and Adults

Author: Aneeta Rattan, Cynthia S. Levine, Carol S. Dweck, Jennifer L. Eberhardt
Publisher: Plos One
Date: 05/2012

Legal precedent establishes juvenile offenders as inherently less culpable than adult offenders and thus protects juveniles from the most severe of punishments. But how fragile might these protections be? In the present study, simply bringing to mind a Black (vs. White) juvenile offender led participants to view juveniles in general as significantly more similar to adults in their inherent culpability and to express more support for severe sentencing. Indeed, these differences in participants’ perceptions of this foundational legal precedent distinguishing between juveniles and adults accounted for their greater support for severe punishment. These results highlight the fragility of protections for juveniles when race is in play. Furthermore, we suggest that this fragility may have broad implications for how juveniles are seen and treated in the criminal justice system.

Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration Becky Pettit, Bruce Western

Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration

Author: Becky Pettit, Bruce Western
Publisher: American Sociological Review
Date: 04/2004

Although growth in the U.S. prison population over the past twenty-five years has been widely discussed, few studies examine changes in inequality in imprisonment. We study penal inequality by estimating lifetime risks of imprisonment for black and white men at different levels of education. Combining administrative, survey, and census data, we estimate that among men born between 1965 and 1969, 3 percent of whites and 20 percent of blacks had served time in prison by their early thirties. The risks of incarceration are highly stratified by education. Among black men born during this period, 30 percent of those without college education and nearly 60 percent of high school dropouts went to prison by 1999. The novel pervasiveness of imprisonment indicates the emergence of incarceration as a new stage in the life course of young low-skill black men.

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