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The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and…
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The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in…

by Todd R. Clear

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Break the incarceration habit

The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America by Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost (NYU Press, $30).

Todd R. Clear and Natash A. Frost are both academics who specialize in criminal justice issues. Using four decades of research—dating back to the birth of this most recent incarnation of our “law-and-order, punish the offenders” approach to criminal justice in the U.S.—they show how badly the plan to simply “lock ‘em up” has failed and point a clear way forward that involves rehabilitation and restoration.

It’s more than a timely assessment; dismantling our system of mass incarceration in favor of evidence-based approaches to criminal justice may be the only way that we can prevent crime, rehabilitate criminals, and avoid going bankrupt.

Clear and Frost provide an excellent overview of the current system, with its mandatory sentencing, “three-strikes” terms, and the political focus on placating the American instinct for vengeance as express in punishment. The current state of the prison systems (it’s not one system, obviously, but some political responses to crime—like the aforementioned “three strikes” and mandatory sentencing—do seem to move quickly from state to state) is detailed, and followed with some clear-cut proposals that would lead to more humane—and sane—sentencing and incarceration policies, especially for non-violent offenders.

The Punishment Imperative is an excellent historical overview of how the prison systems got to this point—especially in the way that it makes clear that the problem is not one of criminal justice, but of politics—and, particularly if combined with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, will be an excellent first step toward a public conversation about prison reform.

(Published on 2/2/2014 on Lit/Rant: http://litrant.tumblr.com/post/75358214571/break-the-incarceration-habit-the-pun...) ( )
  KelMunger | Mar 10, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0814717195, Hardcover)

“Backed up by the best science, Todd Clear and Natasha Frost make a compelling case for why the nation’s forty-year embrace of the punitive spirit has been morally bankrupt and endangered public safety.  But this is far more than an exposé of correctional failure.  Recognizing that a policy turning point is at hand, Clear and Frost provide a practical blueprint for choosing a different correctional future—counsel that is wise and should be widely followed.”—Francis T. Cullen, Distinguished Research Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati 
 
Over the last 35 years, the US penal system has grown at a rate unprecedented in US history—five times larger than in the past and grossly out of scale with the rest of the world. This growth was part of a sustained and intentional effort to “get tough” on crime, and characterizes a time when no policy options were acceptable save for those that increased penalties. In The Punishment Imperative, eminent criminologists Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost argue that America’s move to mass incarceration from the 1960s to the early 2000s was more than just a response to crime or a collection of policies adopted in isolation; it was a grand social experiment. Tracing a wide array of trends related to the criminal justice system, The Punishment Imperative charts the rise of penal severity in America and speculates that a variety of forces—fiscal, political, and evidentiary—have finally come together to bring this great social experiment to an end.
 
Clear and Frost stress that while the doubling of the crime rate in the late 1960s represented one of the most pressing social problems at the time, this is not what served as a foundation for the great punishment experiment. Rather, it was the way crime posed a political problem—and thereby offered a political opportunity—that became the basis for the great rise in punishment. The authors claim that the punishment imperativeis a particularly insidious social experiment because the actual goal was never articulated, the full array of consequences was never considered, and the momentum built even as the forces driving the policy shifts diminished.  Clear and Frost argue that the public’s growing realization that the severe policies themselves, not growing crime rates, were the main cause of increased incarceration eventually led to a surge of interest in taking a more rehabilitative, pragmatic, and cooperative approach to dealing with criminal offenders.
 
The Punishment Imperative cautions that the legacy of the grand experiment of the past forty years will be difficult to escape. However, the authors suggest that the United States now stands at the threshold of a new era in penal policy, and they offer several practical and pragmatic policy solutions to changing the criminal justice system’s approach to punishment. Part historical study, part forward-looking policy analysis, The Punishment Imperative is a compelling study of a generation of crime and punishment in America.
 
Todd R. Clear is Dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University. He is the author of Imprisoning Communities and What Is Community Justice? and the founding editor of the journal Criminology & Public Policy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:42 -0400)

Over the last 35 years, the US penal system has grown at a rate unprecedented in US historyfive times larger than in the past and grossly out of scale with the rest of the world. This growth was part of a sustained and intentional effort to get tough on crime, and characterizes a time when no policy options were acceptable save for those that increased penalties. In The Punishment Imperative, eminent criminologists Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost argue that Americas move to mass incarceration from the 1960s to the early 2000s was more than just a response to crime or a collection of policies adopted in isolation; it was a grand social experiment. Tracing a wide array of trends related to the criminal justice system, The Punishment Imperative charts the rise of penal severity in America and speculates that a variety of forcesfiscal, political, and evidentiaryhave finally come together to bring this great social experiment to an end.--… (more)

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