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Arien Mack Editor’s Introduction T H IS ISSU E CO N TA IN S ALM OST ALL OF TH E PAPERS FROM TH E SIX TE EN T H Social Research conference, Punishm ent: The US Record, w hich took place at The New School in the fall of 2006. The decision to organize a conference on who, what, why, and how we punish criminal acts had several different sources, some obvious—the staggering increase in the num ber of people incarcerated in the United States since the 1970s (the United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world despite a drop in crime rates) and the well-known fact that the United States, unlike other W estern democracies, reaffirms its dubious claim to exceptionalism by continuing to m andate capital punishm ent in many states of the union. Some are less obvious. Among the less obvious that were discussed at conference was an interest in the foundations of our ideas of punishm ent that stem from theology and philosophy and seem to have deep psychological roots. We were concerned as well about how these ideas play out in our understandings of the coercive power of a democratic state. We believed and continue to believe that there is an urgent need to look at the social, political, and economic causes and consequences of the ways in which we punish, especially since we now seem to be living in a carceral state. Here is some of the evidence. ►Since the 1970s our prison population has increased by about 650 percent, despite the decrease in the crime rate. ►As of 2005, over 2 million people were imprisoned in this country. That is almost 1 in every 136 US residents. ►Our per capita incarceration rates are about 8 times higher than those in Europe. social research Vol 74 : No 2 : Summer 2007 xi ►Black m en who make up only 6 percent of the US population consti­ tute over 40 percent of our prison population. ►A black m an has a 32 percent chance of being im prisoned at some point in his lifetime. ►Ten states do not allow ex-cons to vote. ►Nearly 2,800,000 American children have at least one parent in prison. ►W omen prisoners are sometimes shackled during childbirth. ►There are roughly 3,400 inm ates on death row in the United States. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. This issue, which is organized into six sections to reflect the six sessions of the conference, asks questions about the why, what, how, and who of punishm ent, on the assum ption that a discussion of these issues will lead to a clearer understanding of the often heinous conse­ quences of our current practices of punishm ent and aid in the search for viable alternatives. None of our Social Research conferences would be possible w ithout the generous support and advice from others. The Punishm ent confer­ ence was no exception. It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the generous support of our funders: the Russell Sage Foundation, the After-Prison Initiative of the Open Society Institute’s US Justice Fund, the Ford Foundation, and The J. M. Kaplan Foundation. This conference would never have happened w ithout their support. I would also like to express my gratitude to our group of advis­ ers who attended the planning meetings for this conference, m any of whom continued to provide advice during the sometimes difficult path from the idea of the conference to the conference itself. Our full list of advisers appears below. However, I would like to express my very special thanks to Bernard Harcourt who, although we had never m et until the day of the conference, was an extraordinarily generous and deeply knowledgeable adviser who was unfailingly ready to help me think through the many problems that arose, and to Susan Tucker who provided many invaluable suggestions about whom to invite to speak xii social research and helped us bring Carey Lowell and Richard Gere to the conference to read the writings of people in prison, which was our moving keynote event. (This reading can be listened to on our website...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. xi-xiv
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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