Book Review: Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration

Published date01 September 2005
Date01 September 2005
Subject MatterArticles
Book_Reviews.vp 236
Criminal Justice Review
Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration, by Mary Pattillo, David
Weiman, and Bruce Western (Eds.). New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004. pp. 277.
DOI: 10.1177/0734016805284326
Imprisoning America is the culmination of a 2001 conference at Northwestern Univer-
sity’s Institute for Policy Research on “The Effects of Incarceration on Children and Fami-
lies.” The editors selected papers for inclusion that met the criteria of being empirically
based, interdisciplinary, and multimethod. Contributors to the book come from criminal jus-
tice, economics, psychology, social work, and sociology. Part 1 of the book contains four
chapters that document the effects of imprisonment on families. The three chapters in Part 2
detail the effects of imprisonment on communities.
The U.S. prison population has grown every year since 1975. As of midyear 2002, there
were more than 1.3 million persons incarcerated in federal and state prisons. When jail
inmates are included, the number of incarcerated offenders exceeds 2 million. Incarceration,
however, is not spread evenly throughout the population but is concentrated among lower
income and minority residents. Although less than 1% of the general population was incar-
cerated in 2002, about 12% of Black men in their 20s to early 30s were in prison. This com-
pares to about 4% of Hispanic males, and 1.6% of White males aged 20 to 30 who were incar-
cerated. The editors suggest that part of the racial disparity in imprisonment derives from
race differences in education. Among high school dropouts, one in nine Whites and more
than half of all Blacks have prison records. Lack of education and job skills clearly contribute
to the risk of incarceration, but the high risk falls disproportionately on young Black males.
Contributors to this volume focus on the impact of incarceration not on crime but on family,
community, and economic life. Current sentencing policies have a number of unintended
consequences. The...

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