The Insidious Momentum of American Mass Incarceration

ISBN : 9780197513170

Franklin E. Zimring
248 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Dec 2020
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The phenomenal growth of penal confinement in the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century is still a public policy mystery. While there is unanimous condemnation of the practice, there is no consensus on the causes nor any persuasive analysis of what is likely to happen in the coming decades. In The Insidious Momentum of American Mass Incarceration, Franklin E. Zimring seeks a comprehensive understanding of when, how, and why the United States became the world leader in incarceration to further determine how the use of confinement can realistically be reduced. To do this, Zimring first profiles the growth of imprisonment after 1970, emphasizing the important roles of both the federal system and the distribution of power and fiscal responsibility among the levels of government in American states. He also examines the changes in law enforcement, prosecution and criminal sentencing that ignited the 400% increase in rates of imprisonment in the single generation after 1975. Finally, Zimring then proposes a range of strategies that can reduce prison population and promote rational policies of criminal punishment. Arguing that the most powerful enemy to reducing excess incarceration is simply the mundane features of state and local government, such as elections of prosecutors and state support for prison budgets, this book challenges the convential ways we consider the issue of mass incarceration in the United States and how we can combat the rising numbers.


Part I. The Road to 2020
Chapter 1. An American Surprise
Chapter 2. Crime, Law Enforcement and Sentencing in an Era of Prison Expansion
Chapter 3. Why the Prison-Boom Generation?
Chapter 4. How American Institutions Encourage and Sustain High Rates of Imprisonment
Chapter 5. What Happens Next?
Part II. Strategies of Sentencing Reform
Chapter 6. Two Categorical Alternatives to Prisons
Chapter 7. Restructuring the Governance of Imprisonment
Chapter 8. Prosecutorial Power and Adversarial Focus
Part II-Afterword Explaining the Limited Estimates of Decarceration
Part III. Policy Problems for a Million-Cell Future
Chapter 9. Strategy and Tactics for Building Institutions
Chapter 10. The Epidemic of Penal Disabilities
Appendix A

About the author: 

Franklin E. Zimring is the William G. Simon Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author or co-author of many books on topics including deterrence, the changing legal world of adolescence, capital punishment, the scale of imprisonment, and drug control. His books include American Juvenile Justice, The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment (voted a Book of the Year by the Economist), When Police Kill, and The City That Became Safe. He was awarded the Stockholm Prize in Criminology for 2020 (Philip J. Cook).

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