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Punishment and Inequality in America

4.0 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0871548948
ISBN-10: 0871548941
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

BRUCE WESTERN is professor of sociology at Princeton University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871548941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871548948
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,262,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael M. Wehrman on April 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: 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.
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