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Great Punishment Experiment

NCJ Number
Perspectives Volume: 36 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 2012 Pages: 52-59
Todd R. Clear, Ph.D.; William D. Burrell
Date Published
8 pages
The article discusses the recent decline in populations for all components of adult corrections in the United States and looks at how penology theories have evolved over the years.
In 2011, statistics indicate that for the first time four decades, the nationwide inmate population in the United States declined at all components of adult corrections. The authors argue that while the declines were small, the overall slowing in the growth and actual decreases in the populations indicate a fundamental shift away from the country's "great punishment experiment." The article discusses the basis of the "great punishment experiment," which is based on the thesis that people choose to commit crimes through rational choices. In other words, criminals choose to commit crimes because the benefits of crime outweigh the costs and that the only way to reduce crime is to change the incentives that lead offenders to choose criminal behavior. The authors discuss the primary mechanism by which the punishment experiment worked - making corrections tougher through the implementation of ever more punitive sentencing and correctional policies. This process resulted in a higher percentage of incarcerated individuals, longer prison sentences, and raising crime rates leading to an explosion in correctional populations. The article also examines the collateral consequences resulting from the great punishment experiment that have negatively impacted offenders, their children, their families, and their communities. In addition, the authors discuss the impact that the experiment has had on probation and parole, along with the direction that corrections now seems to be headed - towards the use of community justice. References


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