Book Review: The punishment imperative: The rise and failure of mass incarceration in America

Date01 June 2018
Published date01 June 2018
DOI10.1177/0734016817707808
CJR707808 270..276 Book Reviews
Criminal Justice Review
2018, Vol. 43(2) 270-276
Book Reviews
ª 2017 Georgia State University
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Clear, T. R., & Frost, N. A. (2014).
The punishment imperative: The rise and failure of mass incarceration in America. New York, NY: New York
University Press. 258 pp. $25, ISBN 978-0-8147-1719-6.
Reviewed by: Doris Schartmueller, California State University, Chico, Chico, CA, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817707808
Many books have been written on the ongoing era of mass incarceration in the United States. While
some discuss its causes, others expose its consequences for the criminal justice system and com-
munities at large. The Punishment Imperative, first published in 2013, is a book that provides a
thorough historical analysis of mass incarceration but also points to tighter community corrections
and reintegration barriers that have characterized the punitive era. What most stands out about Clear
and Frost’s book, however, is that they anticipate the end of the punitive era and that they make
specific policy recommendations on how to deal with the legacy of America’s punitive apparatus.
Throughout the book, Clear and Frost are clear on the insight that mass incarceration has not been
simply the product of higher crime rates in the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, the authors argue that the
phenomenon was a grand social experiment, which they define as the “adoption of a new, largely
unproven strategy for a high-priority social problem based on a reformulated understanding of that
problem” (p. 49). Facing rising crime rates, political leaders seized the opportunity of an increased
fear of crime to implement new and innovative strategies to deal with the issue. They started
experimenting with policies aimed at punishing more harshly. The authors refer to this as the
Punishment Imperative, “a great, though poorly articulated, social experiment in expanded social
control” (p. 3).
The book consists of...

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