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Prison Use and Social Control

NCJ Number
Date Published
38 pages
Allegations that incarceration undermines less coercive institutions of social control are largely speculative; this chapter reviews and evaluates the existing evidence that recent increases in incarceration have had such effects; suggestions are offered regarding research that should be done to test this contention further.
Over the past 20 years, the United States has experienced a massive increase in imprisonment. The number of people incarcerated and the clustering of incarceration in the inner-city black population raise the prospect that incarceration may be undermining less coercive institutions of social control such as families or communities. The long-term result of this incarceration policy would thus be increases rather than the expected decreases in crime. There is some empirical evidence to support this position. Increases in incarceration have been clustered in groups and places and have been of the magnitude that could affect less coercive social-control institutions in those areas. Large proportions of the imprisoned population are involved in families and communities at the time of their imprisonment. Incarceration has been shown to reduce family formation for blacks but not for whites. Research to date, however, has not shown that increasing incarceration has led to more crime in the long run or that the apparent effects of incarceration on other institutions are not due to other factors. If research ultimately establishes that these allegations are true, then future increases in incarceration must be considered in the context of their likely long-term effects on these institutions and not just their immediate effect on crime rates. 5 exhibits, 10 notes, and 61 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000