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Understanding Prison Policy and Population Trends

Theodore Caplow and Jonathan Simon
Crime and Justice
Vol. 26, Prisons (1999), pp. 63-120
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147684
Page Count: 58
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Understanding Prison Policy and Population Trends
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Abstract

American incarceration numbers increased fivefold between 1973 and 1997. Changes in penal policies and practices, not changes in crime rates, are the primary explanation, but there is disagreement about the causes of penal policy changes. Two prevalent explanations are that rising crime rates led to public demand for harsher policies and that politicians used crime policy to exacerbate public fears and win electoral favor. Both have merit but either is too simple. More likely the causes are some combination of crime policy's broad public appeal in an era of fractionated politics, unintended consequences of the war on drugs, and the increased reflexivity of the justice system that, with improved accountability and efficiency, becomes a major source of demand for its penal services.

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