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Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse

NCJ Number
Todd R. Clear
Date Published
270 pages
By empirically examining the effects of mass incarceration on poor communities, this book shows that high rates of incarceration contribute to the very problems that contribute to criminal behavior.
The first chapter makes the argument that the generation-long growth in the U.S. prison population has resulted in the removal of large proportions of people from poor communities, reducing the potential and actual social and economic capital in communities already socioeconomically disadvantaged. Chapter 2 critically reviews what is known about incarceration and crime. After showing the long-term trends in crime and prison populations, the chapter examines the two main ways crime could be suppressed by imprisonment, i.e., deterrence and incapacitation. Chapter 3 describes the growth in the number of people incarcerated in the United States, showing how the following factors have contributed to this trend: reduction in the use of community-based sentencing alternatives, increased length of sentences, and increasing the rate of return to prison for those under community supervision. Chapter 4 presents the theoretical argument for how a high rate of incarceration for specific neighborhoods affects the quality of life in those communities, and chapter 5 presents an empirical investigation of the adverse impact of incarceration on intimate social relationships, the social capital for informal social control, and economic and political systems. Chapter 6 summarizes an ethnographic study of incarceration in 2 poor communities, based on 100 interviews with individuals and 2 group interviews of residents in Tallahassee, FL. Chapter 7 summarizes some studies of the way that high incarceration rates contribute to elevated crime rates in the communities disproportionately affected by the incarceration rate. Findings from research in Tallahassee, FL; Portland, OR; and Columbus, OH are reported as evidence of this. Chapter 8 proposes solutions for the adverse impacts of concentrated incarceration in poor communities. Appendix, bibliography and a subject index