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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In-depth review: against warehousing and throwing away the keys
Criminologists Todd Clear (Rutgers) and Natasha Frost (Northeastern) began this book in 2008, when policies still led to an relentless and unprecedented increase in those put behind bars. Until a few years ago, those entering prison outnumbered those freed. While, they argue, no single rationale articulated the policy leading to "the great punishment experiment",...
Published 13 months ago by John L Murphy

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting if a bit to academic in tone
This is a subject I find completely interesting and a topic that I think is important for most Americans to know about and discuss. There is no argument that the prison population in the US is growing at an astonishing rate and this book is one of the better attempts I have read in explaining why things are the way they are.

The writing style of this book...
Published 10 months ago by Travis Starnes


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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In-depth review: against warehousing and throwing away the keys, November 19, 2013
This review is from: The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America (Hardcover)
Criminologists Todd Clear (Rutgers) and Natasha Frost (Northeastern) began this book in 2008, when policies still led to an relentless and unprecedented increase in those put behind bars. Until a few years ago, those entering prison outnumbered those freed. While, they argue, no single rationale articulated the policy leading to "the great punishment experiment", the doubling of crime rates in the late 1960s, the threat of unrest by African American males, despair at urban decay, and pressure for politicians to take a bolder stand contributed to the rise of the massive penal system in place today.

The authors title this approach as "the Punishment Imperative". A war on drugs replaced that of the Great Society's war on poverty; as the Vietnam conflict subsided as far as the U.S. was concerned, another series of battles led to a war on crime as a bipartisan priority. Victims' rights movements drew attention to attacks by those who had been released from prison. The media and politicians agreed that this issue captured public attention. A bonus was that working- and middle-class jobs emerged, and in turn, hard-pressed rural communities lobbied for the employment brought by new prisons.

Four points combined to sway the public and those charged with building and sustaining the system. Rehabilitation was seen as a failure. A few habitual, career criminals were assumed to commit most crimes. These "active offenders" often eluded apprehension and conviction. Imprisoning such offenders prevented crime. Keeping more people inside prison, therefore, appeared a logical solution.

Both professors concur that this rationale and the policy of mass incarceration were never presented as a clear solution to the rise in crime during the 1960s, however. Instead, the political establishment and law-and-order advocates combined to deter offenders, and thereby discourage those who might think they could get away with wrongdoing. Deterrence through heightened penalties and swifter justice, into the 1980s, resulted in more people being locked up than before.

This pushed up higher numbers of those imprisoned. By 2002, Americans represented a quarter of the global population behind bars. At that rate, seven percent of all Americans would be incarcerated at some point. By 2006, annual costs for housing, feeding, and guarding inmates averaged nearly $30,000. Ninety percent of "correctional dollars" sustained mass incarceration.

Violent offenses themselves could range widely, from rape, murder, or armed robbery to "intimidation". Property and drug offenses likewise spanned a wide variety of actions. The war on drugs and related crime spurred massive increases in those jailed. Half of those incarcerated were under the age of thirty-five, and ninety percent younger than forty-five. Ninety percent of those imprisoned were male; African Americans comprised nearly half of this cohort. One in eight black men in their late twenties, at these rates last decade, could expect to be behind bars sometime.

As compiled by the authors, these facts add up to a sobering sum. While (a persistent if predictable lack in a book marketed for those who run and challenge the criminal justice industry) the lay reader may wish for more of a personal touch in a serious study full of analysis and data, the usefulness of this treatise for those learning about criminal justice remains evident. Clear and Frost scrutinize the paradigm shifts and get-tough crackdowns coolly, as professors will. This straightforward, reasoned compilation of the many problems and some suggested solutions for the failure of mass incarceration features, as may be wise, a lack of emotion or the human-interest anecdote. Full of lists, charts, and a well-documented text, this does not obscure the authors' sympathy for those who, locked up or on the outside, have suffered during the war on crime and drugs in ways that too few politicians have sought to assuage or alleviate.

These tough-on-crime decisions, as the public gradually learned of their impact on not only prisoners but their families and their communities, led gradually to a backlash against such long terms. For, it appeared that rehabilitation had been eliminated or reduced to nearly nothing, compared to the insistent policy that incarceration and deprivation had to persist as self-evident reasons why prisoners had to serve their time in as inauspicious a setting and mindset as possible. (One factor that does not receive the attention I expected is the behind-the-scenes clout of prison guards and their strong unions, backed by law-and-order politicians with deep coffers for gubernatorial campaigns: these continue to exert strong influence on many elections and many referendums when prison reform issues are set before voters.) Frost and Clear point to the 2000-2010 dramatic drops in crime rates, and the post-2008 recession, as two key factors easing the pressure to confine so many behind bars.

Impacts widen beyond prisons and prisoners. Social networks and personal support can crumble, especially in poor areas. Denial of public housing, food stamps, child custody, and federal financial aid for college to those convicted of drug-related offenses exacerbates the negative impacts on those seeking, as the authors emphasize, "reentry" into society. They note an encouraging shift lately from labeling those coming back from prison as "felons" or "parolees" to those seeking a path to stability.

However, as their conclusion investigates, Clear and Frost caution that even if drug-related offenses are reduced and early-release incentives lessen the "length of stay" prisoners must serve, the replacements for mass incarceration may carry their own troublesome effects. If confinement ebbs, surveillance grows. Social control over parolees by "justice reinvestment strategies" can create its own burdens. Social services may not match the needs of the most deprived communities which have been most weakened by incarceration. Incentives may sound appealing, but managing the programs designed to watch over released offenders carries its own difficulties, especially when straitened budgets and hawkish, wary taxpayers bring their own limits to whatever programs might be mooted.

As a final observation, one may wonder how the new technologies, as humble as ankle monitors or as lofty as drones, will shape the future of the law-and-order entities entrusted with supervising those released back into the community. Released prisoners constitute a target group few sympathize with unless they share by blood or friendship their fate and their troubles. While Clear and Frost in this short, efficiently conveyed study cannot delve into all of the ramifications of how to integrate those returning to society, The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America attests to the need for a better way to manage the millions that our nation have, for too long, relegated to lock up and conspired to shut off from the scrutiny and the support by the rest of us.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars HAS THE INCARCERATION SYSTEM RUN ITS COURSE?, December 15, 2013
This review is from: The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America (Hardcover)
The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America by Todd R. Clear & Natasha A Frost is a critical look at the failure of the correctional measure adopted in the United States, and argued that the system which has been dominant for more than a generation, has now run its course. The book is academic in nature and should be read by policy-makers involved in the correctional system.

The book consists of seven informative and perceptive chapters, which includes The Beginning of the End of the Punishment Imperative, The Contours of Mass Incarceration, The Punishment Imperative as a Grand Social Experiment, The Policies of the Punishment Imperative, Two Views on the Objectives of the Punishment Imperative, Assessing the Punishment Imperative and Dismantling the Punishment Imperative.

Having a look at the system, and putting forward their assessment, the authors ask the question: Is this something we wish to continue? In the final chapter Dismantling the Punishment Imperative, the authors explore the mechanisms by which it may be more rapidly brought to its conclusion and put forward three agenda: repealing mandatory penalties, reducing length of stay and reducing rates of recidivism.

In short, the book argues for a paradigm shift in view and attitude toward incarceration in America.
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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, May 14, 2014
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This review is from: The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America (Hardcover)
Thoughtful, considered, and chock-full of data. Perfect for anyone with questions about how we ended up where we are today with over 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting if a bit to academic in tone, February 6, 2014
By 
Travis Starnes (Houston, Texas USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America (Hardcover)
This is a subject I find completely interesting and a topic that I think is important for most Americans to know about and discuss. There is no argument that the prison population in the US is growing at an astonishing rate and this book is one of the better attempts I have read in explaining why things are the way they are.

The writing style of this book isn’t bad. In fact in comparison to many books focusing on sociological studies it does an excellent job of presenting information in a conversational style. Most books in this genre tend to be on the bland side and come off closer to text books rather than something you might read for pleasure. That being said the authors are still academics tackling a subject with data. What that really means is no matter how flowing the writing style is there is no way to escape the dense push of data that the reader is hit with. They do what they can to lessen the impact but this will never be a book you will read for pure entertainment. It is slow to start off as the authors try and give the reader enough background, incredible technical at points and presents an overwhelming amount of information.

As for the content of the book, their research is impeccable and they have some very interesting facts and conclusions about the current issue of prison population and criminal sentences. From a shear academic standpoint this is an excellent book that is worth reading. There is no doubt you will learn something from this book and take the issues much more seriously than before you picked it up.
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The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America
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