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The Long Reach of the Carceral State: The Politics of Crime, Mass Imprisonment, and Penal Reform in the United States and Abroad

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This essay reviews five books as they relate to the causes and political consequences of mass imprisonment in the United States and the comparative politics of penal policy: Ruth Wilson Gilmore's Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (2007); Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen's Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy (2006); Jonathan Simon's Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (2007); Michael Tonry, ed., Crime, Punishment, and Politics in a Comparative Perspective (2007); and Bruce Western's Punishment and Inequality in America (2006).

The essay first examines the enormous and growing political repercussions of having a vast penal system embedded in a democratic polity, including the political and electoral consequences of felon disenfranchisement; increasing political, social, and economic inequality for people marked by the penal system; and the phenomenon of “governing through crime.” It also analyzes emerging strategies of resistance to US penal policies and mass incarceration, why some countries are more vulnerable to hard-line penal policies than others, and what it will take to reverse the US prison boom.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-03-01

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