• 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
State of the Union 2017: Incarceration Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes

State of the Union 2017: Incarceration

Author: Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 06/2017

Despite observed declines in crime and much talk of criminal justice reform, the United States continues to incarcerate a much larger fraction of its population than any other advanced industrialized country. The burden of this intensive incarceration continues to fall disproportionately on black men: At the end of 2015, a full 9.1 percent of young black men (ages 20–34) were incarcerated, a rate that is 5.7 times that of young white men (1.6%). Fully 10 percent of black children had an incarcerated parent in 2015, compared with 3.6 percent of Hispanic children and 1.7 percent of white children.

Liberal But Not Stupid: Meeting the Promise of Downsizing Prisons Francis Cullen, Joan Petersilia

Liberal But Not Stupid: Meeting the Promise of Downsizing Prisons

Author: Francis Cullen, Joan Petersilia
Publisher: Stanford Criminal Law & Policy
Date: 06/2016

A confluence of factors—a perfect storm—interfered with the intractable rise of imprisonment and contributed to the emergence of a new sensibility defining continued mass imprisonment as non-sustainable. In this context, reducing America’s prisons has materialized as a viable possibility. For progressives who have long called for restraint in the use of incarceration, the challenge is whether the promise of downsizing can be met. The failure of past reforms aimed at decarceration stands as a sobering reminder that good intentions do not easily translate into good results. Further, a number of other reasons exist for why meaningful downsizing might well fail (e.g., the enormous scale of imprisonment that must be confronted, limited mechanisms available to release inmates, lack of quality alternative programs). Still, reasons also exist for optimism, the most important of which is the waning legitimacy of the paradigm of mass incarceration, which has produced efforts to lower inmate populations and close institutions in various states. The issue of downsizing will also remain at the forefront of correctional discourse because of the court-ordered reduction in imprisonment in California. This experiment is ongoing, but is revealing the difficulty of downsizing; the initiative appears to be producing mixed results (e.g., reductions in the state’s prison population but increases in local jail populations). In the end, successful downsizing must be “liberal but not stupid.” Thus, reform efforts must be guided not only by progressive values but also by a clear reliance on scientific knowledge about corrections and on a willingness to address the pragmatic issues that can thwart good intentions. Ultimately, a “criminology of downsizing” must be developed to foster effective policy interventions.

Improving Parole Release in America Edward Rhine , Joan Petersilia, Kevin R Reitz

Improving Parole Release in America

Author: Edward Rhine , Joan Petersilia, Kevin R Reitz
Publisher: Federal Sentencing Reporter
Date: 12/2015

This article lays out a ten-point program for the improvement of discretionary parole-release systems in America. Taken together, our recommendations coalesce into an ambitious model that has never before existed in the United States. Even if adopted separately, our recommendations would achieve substantial incremental improvements in the current practices of all paroling systems.

Homelessness and Housing Insecurity Among Former Prisoners Claire W. Herbert , Jeffrey D. Morenoff , David Harding

Homelessness and Housing Insecurity Among Former Prisoners

Author: Claire W. Herbert , Jeffrey D. Morenoff , David Harding
Publisher: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences
Date: 11/2015

The United States has experienced dramatic increases in both incarceration rates and the population of insecurely housed or homeless persons since the 1980s. These marginalized populations have strong overlaps, with many people being poor, minority, and from an urban area. That a relationship between homelessness, housing insecurity, and incarceration exists is clear, but the extent and nature of this relationship is not yet adequately understood. We use longitudinal, administrative data on Michigan parolees released in 2003 to examine returning prisoners’ experiences with housing insecurity and homelessness. Our analysis finds relatively low rates of outright homelessness among former prisoners, but very high rates of housing insecurity, much of which is linked to features of community supervision, such as intermediate sanctions, returns to prison, and absconding. We identify risk factors for housing insecurity, including mental illness, substance use, prior incarceration, and homelessness, as well as protective “buffers” against insecurity and homelessness, including earnings and social supports.

Incarceration, Prisoner Reentry, and Communities Jeffrey D. Morenoff, David Harding

Incarceration, Prisoner Reentry, and Communities

Author: Jeffrey D. Morenoff, David Harding
Publisher: Annual Review of Sociology
Date: 07/2014

Since the mid-1970s, the United States has experienced an enormous rise in incarceration and accompanying increases in returning prisoners and in postrelease community correctional supervision. Poor urban communities are disproportionately impacted by these phenomena. This review focuses on two complementary questions regarding incarceration, prisoner reentry, and communities: (a) whether and how mass incarceration has affected the social and economic structure of American communities, and (b) how residential neighborhoods affect the social and economic reintegration of returning prisoners. These two questions can be seen as part of a dynamic process involving a pernicious feedback loop in which mass incarceration undermines the structure and social organization of some communities, thus creating more criminogenic environments for returning prisoners and further diminishing their prospects for successful reentry and reintegration.

incarceration - CPI Affiliates

David Harding's picture David Harding Incarceration Research Group Leader, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley
Hilary Hoynes's picture Hilary Hoynes Safety Net and Incarceration Research Group Leader, Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Haas Distinguished Chair in Economic Disparities
University of California, Berkeley
Joan Petersilia's picture Joan Petersilia Incarceration Research Group Leader, Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law, Faculty Co-Director of Stanford Criminal Justice Center
Stanford Law School
Becky Pettit's picture Becky Pettit Professor of Sociology; Faculty Affiliate, Population Research Center
University of Texas-Austin
Bruce Western's picture Bruce Western Professor of Sociology; Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Faculty Chair, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management
Harvard University


Incarceration - Other Research

Title Author Media
The Non-Market Benefits of Education and Ability James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, Gregory Veramendi

The Non-Market Benefits of Education and Ability

Author: James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, Gregory Veramendi
Publisher: NBER
Date: 10/2017

This paper analyzes the non-market benefits of education and ability. Using a dynamic model of educational choice we estimate returns to education that account for selection bias and sorting on gains. We investigate a range of non-market outcomes including incarceration, mental health, voter participation, trust, and participation in welfare. We find distinct patterns of returns that depend on the levels of schooling and ability. Unlike the monetary benefits of education, the benefits to education for many non-market outcomes are greater for low-ability persons. College graduation decreases welfare use, lowers depression, and raises self-esteem more for less-able individuals.

Prison Downsizing and Public Safety Magnus Lofstrom, Steven Raphael

Prison Downsizing and Public Safety

Author: Magnus Lofstrom, Steven Raphael
Publisher: Criminology & Public Policy
Date: 05/2016

Since the mid-1970s, the United States has experienced explosive growth in the incarceration rate and now incarcerates adults at a higher rate than any other country in the world (Raphael and Stoll, 2013). State and local budgets primarily carry the economic burden as most inmates are held in state prisons and local jails. The social costs of incarceration are largely borne by poor and minority households whose members disproportionately experience incarceration directly or indirectly through the incarceration of a family member. Not surprisingly, many states, as well as the federal government, are actively seeking alternative strategies to manage public safety. Recent reforms have put California at the forefront of broad efforts across the country to address the reliance on costly incarceration. California's recent history presents unique opportunities to study large, exogenous changes in incarceration rates.

Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality Magnus Lofstrom, Steven Raphael

Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality

Author: Magnus Lofstrom, Steven Raphael
Publisher: Journal of Economic Perspectives
Date: 03/2016

Crime rates in the United States have declined to historical lows since the early 1990s. Prison and jail incarceration rates as well as community correctional populations have increased greatly since the mid-1970s. Both of these developments have disproportionately impacted poor and minority communities. In this paper, we document these trends. We then present an assessment of whether the crime declines can be attributed to the massive expansion of the U.S. criminal justice system. We argue that the crime is certainly lower as results of this expansion and the crime rate in the early 1990s was likely a third lower than what they would have been absent changes in sentencing practices in the 1980s. However, there is little evidence of an impact of the further stiffening of sentences during the 1990s, a period when prison and other correctional populations expanded rapidly. Hence, the growth in criminal justice populations since 1990s have exacerbated socioeconomic inequality in the U.S. without generating much benefit in terms of lower crime rates.

The Great Recession and State Criminal Justice Policy: Do Economic Hard Times Matter? Peter K. Enns, Delphia Shanks-Booth

The Great Recession and State Criminal Justice Policy: Do Economic Hard Times Matter?

Author: Peter K. Enns, Delphia Shanks-Booth
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
Date: 12/2015

It costs a lot to maintain the world's highest incarceration rate. Did the largest economic shock since the Great Depression influence criminal justice policy and resulting incarcerations?

Civil Rights Legislation and Legalized Exclusion: Mass Incarceration and the Masking of Inequality Becky Pettit, Bryan L. Sykes

Civil Rights Legislation and Legalized Exclusion: Mass Incarceration and the Masking of Inequality

Author: Becky Pettit, Bryan L. Sykes
Publisher: Sociological Forum
Date: 06/2015

Civil rights legislation in the 1960s promised greater racial equality in a variety of domains including education, economic opportunity, and voting. Yet those same laws were coupled with exclusions from surveys used to gauge their effects thereby affecting both statistical portraits of inequality and our understanding of the impact of civil rights legislation. This article begins with a review of the exclusionary criteria and some tools intended for its evaluation. Civil rights laws were designed at least in part to be assessed through data on the American population collected from samples of individuals living in households, which neglects people who are unstably housed, homeless, or institutionalized. Time series data from surveys of the civilian population and those in prisons and jails show that growth in the American criminal justice system since the early 1970s undermines landmark civil rights acts. As many as 1 in 10 black men age 20–34 are in prison or jail on any given day, and in the post–Great Recession era, young black men who have dropped out of high school are more likely to be incarcerated than working in the paid labor force. Our findings call into question assessments of equal opportunity more than half a century after the enactment of historic legislation meant to redress racial inequities in America.