“Why are So Many Americans in Prison?”
Professor, UC Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy
Michael A. Stoll
Professor, UCLA, Department of Public Policy
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On the Book Talk:
Between 1975 and 2007, the American incarceration rate increased nearly fivefold, a historic increase that puts the United States in a league of its own among advanced economies. The United States incarcerates more people today than it ever has, and it stands out as the nation that most frequently uses incarceration to punish those who break the law.
Professors Steven Raphael and Michael Stoll will discuss the factors explain the dramatic rise in incarceration rates in such a short period of time; address the expansion of America’s prison system; and illustrate the pressing need to rethink mass incarceration in this country.
About the Book
Why So Many Americans are in Prison? (Russell Sage Foundation, 2013) carefully evaluates changes in crime patterns, enforcement practices and sentencing laws to reach a sobering conclusion: so many Americans are in prison today because the United States has chosen, through public policies, to put them there. Steven Rafael and Michael A. Stoll dispel the notion that a rise in crime rates fueled the incarceration surge; in fact, crime rates have steadily declined to all-time lows. There is also little evidence for other factors commonly offered to explain the prison boom, such as the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill since the 1950s, changing demographics, or the crack-cocaine epidemic. By contrast, Raphael and Stoll demonstrate that legislative changes to a relatively small set of sentencing policies explain nearly all prison growth since the 1980s. So-called tough on crime laws, including mandatory minimum penalties and repeat offender statutes, have increased the propensity to punish more offenders with lengthier prison sentences. Raphael and Stoll argue that the high-incarceration regime has inflicted broad social costs, particularly among minority communities, who form a disproportionate share of the incarcerated population. Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? ends with a powerful plea to consider alternative crime control strategies, such as expanded policing, drug court programs, and sentencing law reform, which together can end our addiction to incarceration and still preserve public safety.
As states confront the budgetary and social costs of the incarceration boom, Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? provides a revealing and accessible guide to the policies that created the era of mass incarceration and what can be done now to end it.
About the Speakers:
Steven Raphael and Michael A. Stoll have written extensively over the past decade about the causes, costs and consequences of mass incarceration in the U.S. Steven Raphael is Professor of Public Policy at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and Michael A. Stoll is Professor of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.