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Jonathan Simon Rise of the Carcerai State N O PIECE OF T H E PR E SEN T C O N JU N C T U R E IS AS S T R IK IN G AS THE RAPID grow th of the American prison population. At its recent low point in the early 1970s, nearly 90 Americans were in prison for every 100,000 free residents. This was on the low side (but not dramatically so) of a tw entieth-century average o f about 100 per 100,000 residents. These num bers placed the United States well above all its liberal democratic peers, although well behind authoritarian governments like the Soviet Union or South Africa at the time. Beginning in the mid-1970s, the US incarceration rate began an unbroken climb of m ore than 25 years. By the end of 2000, nearly 500 residents of the United States were in prison for every 100,000 free persons (Beck and Harrison, 2001: l).1At this level, the American prison population far outstrips its liberal demo­ cratic peers and has reached levels comparable to those in authoritar­ ian or extremely poor countries. An even larger pool of people stands at considerable risk of being sent to prison because they are already on some form of lesser correctional custody, such as parole or probation. In m any cases these correctional subjects are only a technical violation away from being actual prisoners. For example, in Miami a young m ale on probation after pleading guilty to a “strong arm robbery” (that is, a purse snatch­ ing) was im prisoned for 10 years after missing an appointm ent w ith his probation officer. Including these subjects, the correctional population now includes nearly 3 percent of the adult resident population of the United States (Beck, Karberg, and Harrison, 2002).2 social research Voi 74 : No 2 : Summer 2007 471 W hen we look at the distribution of the correctional popula­ tion it is clear that the prison has become a norm al socializing institu­ tion for whole segments of American society.3 The m ost incarcerated portion of the population consists of young African-American males (with young Hispanic males close behind). Between the ages of 25 and 29 nearly 10,000 Black m ales are in prison for every 100,000 in the community, fully 10 percent of that entire population (Beck, Karberg, and Harrison, 2002: ll).4 At this level of “participation,” prison is for young African-American m en a more im portant institution for integrat­ ing them as subjects into adult roles than higher education, the mili­ tary, or marriage and is comparable to the labor m arket (and is far more im portant than any one industry or segm ent of that market). This “racialization” of punishm ent in America is terribly disturb­ ing for all the usual and compelling reasons. First, African Americans were the prim ary subjects of American slavery and the establishm ent of conditions of full freedom for African Americans has been a central objective of our constitutional system for almost a century and a half. Lore W acquant has described the present prison system as the m ost recent version of organized racial dom ination in America follow­ ing upon both slavery and the system of legal separation of the races enforced for m ost of the tw entieth century (Wacquant, 2000). Second, even putting aside the evidence of racial discrim ination in the crim inal justice system, the massive concentration of m inorities in the prison population has become an independent force separat­ ing the races. The spectacle of a generation of young m inority males im prisoned has reinforced w hite preferences for residential and school segregation. At th e same tim e, it challenges the ability of m inor­ ity com m unities to m aintain viable social networks (Clear and Rose, 1999), and exacerbates the presum ption of unfairness at the hands of the state.5 But beyond even its effects on the construction of racial identity— and where I would like to focus in this paper—the massive prison popu­ lation is posing an emerging challenge to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 471-508
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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