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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough Statistics, Excellent Readability, and an Indictment of 1980's Correction Policy
Bruce Western has stepped into the realm of public sociology, I feel, with this excellent book. This is a well-written, thoroughly researched, book that is accessible to scholars and others alike. Even though the book teems with tables, figures, and analysis, Western presents them without relying on the reader to interpret regression coefficients for meaningfulness, yet...
Published on April 24, 2007 by Michael M. Wehrman

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Racism and our Legal System
Punishment and Inequality is the culmination of an eight-year project by author Bruce Western, a sociology professor at Harvard, who sought to examine how America's penal system has become a major player in determining the life course of many young black and brown Americans today. The history of America's penal system dates back to the early 1800's but Western's work is...
Published 19 months ago by BrooklynSociologist


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough Statistics, Excellent Readability, and an Indictment of 1980's Correction Policy, April 24, 2007
By 
Michael M. Wehrman (Cincinnati, OH United States) - See all my reviews
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Bruce Western has stepped into the realm of public sociology, I feel, with this excellent book. This is a well-written, thoroughly researched, book that is accessible to scholars and others alike. Even though the book teems with tables, figures, and analysis, Western presents them without relying on the reader to interpret regression coefficients for meaningfulness, yet also appends many of the chapters with methodological clarifications just for those kinds of people.

Western presents what is essentially a political book without a political tone. The data speak for themselves, and it is very difficult to think that, after all the work put into this, that he incorrectly attributes so little of the decrease in crime trends to the prison boom (and the absurdity of the cost/benefit for its effect on the decrease). It does seem, however, that he echoes the racial claims of Loic Wacquant in the final chapter, but that's only for a brief moment.

Western also excellently argues and shows off the immense disconnect between crime rates and corrections policy; although only a portion of one chapter, this is a significant point to make. If our policies do not reflect what criminals are actually doing, well, why are we doing it?

My only concern with this book involves Western's "all or nothing" approach to showing the economic/social cost of the prison boom. His analyses show the wage gap, parental gap, and other penalties suffered during and after release by prisoners. He astutely points out the selection bias in unemployment and wage estimates in minority populations due to leaving out the far-more-likely-to-be-incarcerated blacks. However, his analysis in later sections, where he shows the change if none of these people were in prison (to prove the selection bias argument), is one based outside of reality. First, there will never be nobody in prison; second, his own data show that prisoners are of a different background than nonprisoners (such as the "dropping out" of the bottom that artificially raises the mean wage for blacks), so it's hard to estimate where they would fit in among family and work if they were released. Many of them would remain unemployed as well. I understand that this is some of his point, but the difficulty lies in the picture painted, where we exist in a world where the prison boom did happen, Western argues what we would look like if none of the prison boom happened, and the real effect of that is somewhere in between. He is unfoundedly optimistic about the work and family choices (and chances) in these sections of the book. It doesn't change his argument about the problems of the prison boom, however. It merely muddles the otherwise fantastic clarity of his book.

This is a book that can appeal to all sorts of scholars, researchers, policy analysts, and even those who merely wonder what direction out prison policies have taken us. An excellent, excellent work.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Prison Employee, December 8, 2007
This is a book the policy makers and students and everyone in-between would be well served by reading. It can be a little repetitive at times, but the author makes his points well. One of the strengths of this book is that through painstaking but necessary detail in the analysis, the author shows how incarceration damages the lives of those already affected by inequality. Most authors draw correlations, but Western has been able to detail how it is not just the characteristics of those who go to prison that are responsible for recidivism, but that the process of being in prison actually exacerbates the already existing problems in social and human capital that offenders have. I would have liked the author say more about being discerning with crime policy and who should go to prison. There are some people who belong in prison, but this fact seems to be lost in the amount of evidence that is detailed in this book. This however, does not take away from the quality of the book.

The author also does a very nice job in explaining the relationship between the crime drop in the 1990s and the increase in incarceration - increased incarceration is not related to a decrease in crime. The author explains how a 66% increase in incarceration was associated with only a 2- to 5% decrease in crime, at a cost of over $50 billion clearly making the point that incarceration is not an effective means of reducing crime.

My only complaint is that the author does attack Republicans a bit much early on in his book which I believe to be counterproductive. If the author would like Republicans (those who he claims make the worst crime polices) to implement better crime policy, than he should not scare them off but rather, make them think the ideas he is espousing are their own. Just an idea.

Good book, read it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bruce Western, December 16, 2008
This review is from: Punishment and Inequality in America (Paperback)
Millions of individuals are being incarcerated at higher rates than ever before. When compared to other developed democracies, the United States is the leader in sending it's populace to jail. In Bruce Western's Punishment and Inequality in America, he manages to shed light on just how serious the effects of mass incarceration are on our society. Throughout his book Western provides quantitative data to support his notion that mass incarceration exacerbates inequality within the United States.

He goes on to establish that incarceration can be perceived as an institutional membership for many African American males, successfully pushing the poor black minority further into a desperate standard of living which is ripe for recidivism and shattered family structures. As he states, "Black men under age forty have an incarceration rate of 11.5 percent, and are just as likely to be in prison or jail as in a labor union, and about twice as likely to be incarcerated, as to receive government benefits"(p. 19). For many black men in this country, it is common to know someone that has been incarcerated or have actually been incarcerated personally.

Western partially blames the "law and order themes" of the Republican Party for the increased punitive stance. According to Western, after the civil rights movement, there were "realigned race relations," coupled with "elevated crime rates," that led many in the Republican Party to push their get tough agendas. He points out presidents such as Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Senior all enacted more punitive crime measures. Western, however, lacks a more direct example of the actual effects of each presidential administration. It would be interesting to see how each Republican presidency contributed to the prison boom; it would also better support his political argument. No doubt each Republican administration had an effect on the state of incarceration in this country, but which one had the most serious impact is not clearly revealed.

Western concludes his book by pointing out that the prison boom had little effect on the national drop in crime rates, though provides little suggestions for alternatives. Overall it was an informative book that brings needed attention to a controversial topic affecting millions of lives.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bruce Western, December 19, 2008
By 
K. Gove (Brooklyn, NY) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Punishment and Inequality in America (Paperback)
Since the 1970's, the American penal process has changed drastically from a rehabilitative focus to one of incapacitation, deterrence and punishment. This in turn caused a drastic rise in incarceration rates throughout America. In Bruce Western's book, Punishment and Inequality in America, he uses quantitative analysis to showcase an unfortunate link between the rise of incarceration with a similar rise in the number of young, black men behind bars. He also looks into the effects incarceration has on their lives and communities before and after prison.

His effective use of statistical evaluation of such hot button topics as drug use/arrests, as well as unemployment rates and domestic abuse further connect mass incarceration with the mostly taboo issue of race. For example, when looking at the overall risk of incarceration within the context of race, Western found that in 1999 alone, 60% of black men that were high school dropouts ended up in prison; a number that is three times as high as was found twenty years prior. High school dropouts in 2006 were found to have made $10,000 to $35,000 less than that of their more educated peers. Along with that fact, it's also fair to say that these men then don't possess many valuable skills required for well paying respectable jobs. When jobless rates within the population of young black dropouts from 1980-2000 were analyzed, the rate showed joblessness increasing 14%. However, when inmates of the same caliber were included, the number was actually an increase of 24%, leading to a reality that two out of three young black dropouts were without jobs during the economic expansion of the 1990's.

While strong connections were made between inequality within black communities and incarceration, I felt his analysis of political associations was incomplete. In 1964, Barry Goldwater, while running for president, was the first Republican to link the social instability of the 1960s to street crime. He created a warning to the public of a growing menace in our country to our personal safety, to life, to limb and property. This planted a seed of heightened punitive mentality within white voters and has been repeated by decades of Republican politicians. Western only focused analysis on governors from 1980-2000. He did find that limits on judicial discretion increased in most states as more Republicans came into office. And in spite of this finding, when looking for a correlation to the drop in crime from 1993-2001, as many Republicans had linked together, Western found that the effect rehabilitation, deterrence and incapacitation had on crime during the prison boom coincided with a decrease of 2-5% of serious crimes. Looking at statistics at both the state and federal level of politics would allow for a more thorough analysis. The federal level is still an issue, especially since Senator McCain and his supporters in this last election made a point to label Senator Obama with a common label used by Republicans: soft on crime. This type of message further engrains the idea of connecting crime and harsh penalties. The conclusion was equally underdeveloped with a lack of possible alternatives to the economic and political problems addressed. In the end, Punishment and Inequality in America illuminates an otherwise hushed topic of racial inequality spurred on by an American social institution and created a well-informed stepping-stone for future sociological analysis.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The social impact of mass incarceration, May 27, 2008
This review is from: Punishment and Inequality in America (Paperback)
This books brings into light fundamental findings about mass incarceration. Studying the causes and the consequences of the imprisonment boom in the US. Western demonstrates how mass incarceration increased socio-economic inequalities in American society, and particularly for African-Americans. He brings evidence that the prison boom is the product of economic and political changes, rather than evolution of crime rates (crime rate actually decreased). Western supports his claims with evidence he compiled and produces compelling tables and figures. In one of his most important findings, Western demonstrates that the economic expansion of the 90s was actually overstated because the poorest layers of the population had disappeared from statistics while incarcerated (this thesis was developped in an article with Becky Pettit). Therefore, the seemingly good performance of US economy compared to European economies has to be reassessed in the light of mass incarceration: regulated economies might not be the cause of unemployment.

Chapter 7 "Did the prison boom cause the crime drop" is probably the most difficult and controversial one. Western examines claims of Levitt and Spelman that increasing incarceration reduced crime rate, and demonstrates the lack of evidence for such a claim. Western considers that incarceration rate and crime rate are actually unrelated and mass imprisonment is the result of economic and political factors.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A critically important book, July 1, 2009
By 
Ari Kohn (Seattle, WA, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Punishment and Inequality in America (Paperback)
This books documents the stratification of American society; with irrefutable documentation it proves that India is far from being the only country with a caste system. The difference with us, though, is that we lock members of our lower classes into prisons generation after generation - perpetually blocking them from higher education and having the lives we all wish for our children. Ari Kohn, Seattle, WA 98145-0007
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Racism and our Legal System, January 8, 2013
This review is from: Punishment and Inequality in America (Paperback)
Punishment and Inequality is the culmination of an eight-year project by author Bruce Western, a sociology professor at Harvard, who sought to examine how America's penal system has become a major player in determining the life course of many young black and brown Americans today. The history of America's penal system dates back to the early 1800's but Western's work is concentrated between the critical years 1970-2003 when our penal system saw an astronomical rise in population in excess of two million in our jails and prisons. This coincided with a shift in policy by the Nixon and then Reagan Republican administration beginning in the early 1970's. Statistics indicate that African Americans are eight times more likely to be imprisoned than their white counterparts and in 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics show that among blacks aged twenty-five to twenty-nine years more than twelve percent were incarcerated. Non college-educated blacks were more likely to suffer this fate compared to the college educated counterparts and whites. Western's main argument is that this marginalization of poor minority communities has left America deeply divided along racial lines and our penal system is a unique institution of social injustice.
Western makes a very compelling argument for a review of the penal system and the social inequality it perpetuates. He uses an abundance of empirical data to support his claims even though some of his computations fly over the head of the intellectually average amongst us. This is not to say that his work should have read more polemic, but a little more clarity and precision in penmanship would have delivered a more lucid argument to a more diverse audience. Western's major triumph, in my estimation is in highlighting the role of penal system as institution of social inequality. He believed that serious consideration must be given to the penal system and it's "wage allocating effect". From this perspective, he theorizes, the institutional landscape of young black men must include the penal system along with the traditional institutions such as labor unions.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but dull, November 18, 2013
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This review is from: Punishment and Inequality in America (Paperback)
Informative, but it has almost nothing but statistics, so it makes it a very dull read. I'm taking a criminology class this semester and this is one of the required texts.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting analysis, May 10, 2010
By 
V. Woolums (Iowa City, IA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Punishment and Inequality in America (Paperback)
Bought for a public policy class. Read most of it, though a lot of it is redundant to me. Well conceived graphs and tables. Written for professional or layperson. A good read on criminal justice and public policy in the US.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Levitt 2004: Roe v. Wade lowers crime 20 years later HighIncarceration is highly effective, October 1, 2011
By 
This review is from: Punishment and Inequality in America (Paperback)
See also Levitt's 2004 JEP article Journal of Economic Perspectives--Volume 18, Number 1--Winter 2004--Pages 163-190
My extracts from the Levitt article: CrimeDownWhyLevitt2004_20111001.pdf Strong Economy did little, Change in Demographics did little, policing STRATEGIES had little effect, GUN carry laws no effect, Death penalty little effect, BIG EFFECT: more cops is cost effective, more people in jail in the 1990s is enormously effective, accounted for about 12% of decrease in the 1990s [p. 14,15, 16 {173©178}], decreased crack was effective, legalization of abortion in Roe V Wade in 1973 was very important [p.20 {182}] in reducing crime 20 years later. Increased abortion decreased homicide 25.9% in high abortion states, versus a 4.1% increase in low abortion states [p. 20 {182}]. p. 22 [182] The increase in the number of persons incarcerated dominates the other effects. Read the article, it is free from the American Economic Association. colbert2422
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Punishment and Inequality in America
Punishment and Inequality in America by Bruce Western (Paperback - December 13, 2007)
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