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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Is Mass Incarceration the New SUV?

How fast things can change in American.  One day you feel punked not to have an Expedition or Sequoia to drive to the mall in, and a couple of years later, you wonder who left that unsightly gas guzzler in your garage.  Is mass incarceration about to flip?  I've posted on its legal problems, but consider its cultural profile.  Charles Blow frames prisons and corrections generally as the "unsmart" approach to crime in his column today's NYTimes. In a guest column in the LA Times, historian Volker Janssen contrasts the predictable mayhem that broke out at California's hyper-overcrowded prison in Chino, with the scene in 1941 when the California Institute for Men first opened as the first minimum security prison for men.  Then the the state was beginning its march to leadership in the application of new scientific methods of rehabilitation, today it is the poster child for how prisons produce insecurity. 

We will see how far the status of prisons falls before the bedrock of fear of violent crime by urban and suburban voters kicks in.  If this does turn out to be the big change moment, historians will be interested in two relationships that criminologists have spent little time worrying about until now.  First, the degree to which the escalating costs of health care turned out to the be a key vulnerability of the mass incarceration project.  Second, the degree to which the revenues of an escalating housing market between 1991 and 2006 allowed prison systems to continue to inflate well beyond the policy consensus about their utility.

Posted by Jonathan Simon on August 15, 2009 at 02:21 PM | Permalink


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I wonder, will there be a "Cash for Clinkers" program? Or perhaps a "Closed Clinkers Saves Cash" initiative, such as in California?

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 16, 2009 12:39:52 PM

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