The Era of Mass Incarceration and
How Prison Causes Crime 01/29/2014
Why are news headlines problematic for people trying to think sociologically?
They feed the individualistic nature of crime
VS. the way that sociologists feel about crime
Looking beyond the individual case and the emotional level
Think of it as a larger social phenomenon
A single case= unfortunate
Millions of cases= social problem
WHO ARE THE CRIMINALS?
Drug sentencing disparities among race
African Americans only represent a small minority of the rison population, becaue they are a small part of
the entire population
No differences between the drug use among race
Only differences is the type of drug being used (minor)
WHO DECIDES WHO IS A CRIMINAL?
Not a very diverse group of lawmakers (legislature)
Not explicitly racist now?
Racism: America’s worst habit
Explicitly racist laws in our history
Fair Sentencing Act of 2010: 5 yrs. mandatory sentences w/ any amount of crack
CRACK vs. COCAINE
What’s the difference?
Cocaine is more expensive than the other.
Crack was made with baking soda so it can be sold for cheaper on the street.
Crack is the only drug that black people are more likely to use than white people
THINK ABOUT THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF POLICIES LIKE THIS.
THE WAR ON CRIME TIMELINE (related to the war on drugs)
More than doubles for black people, but remains relatively the same for white people
Every race uses drugs at approximately the same race
ERA OF MASS INCARCERATION
In 20’s, almost nobody were kept in prison and through most of the 20 century, until the war on drugs
(incarcerating more than 1.5 million people each year—not counting people on probation, parole, in
county jails, etc.)
County jails- local thing; prisons- long-term thing
U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the history of the earth (716 people/100 thousand
Men make up about 95% of the people in prison (1 in 9 men) – chance of going to prison
White men (1 in 17)
Black men (1 in 3)
Latino men (1 in 6) ARE MINORITIES MORE CRIMINAL THAN WHITES?
They’re all using at the same rate, but there are more minorities in prison for drugs?
WHAT CAUSES CRIME?
Bad genes? No.
Bad morals? No.
Maybe, but we’re not looking to explain individual cases. We’re looking to solve a social problem.
SOCIOLOGICAL THEORIES OF CRIME
Whichever theory (or combination of theories) is accurate, prison causes it.
HOW PRISON CAUSES CRIME
When we talk about cause, we’re talking about probability (not 100% guarantee)
STRAIN: There are things that people want and legal/illegal means to achieve them. Without the means,
you are pressured to commit crime in order to acquire those things through illegal ways.
push you to crime You want what most people want, but you don’t have the means (money, connections, etc.) to get it.
Situations that might reasonably be expected to cause adversity
“If you treat people badly, they might get mad and engage in delinquency.” – Robert Agnew
How might prison cause strain?
For the ex-offender:
Housing (many places don’t let you in with a criminal record); moving is stressful when you can’t find a
Employment: finding a job is tough (a decent job w/ benefits, good conditions, no risk, etc.)
School: trouble finding a school to accept you
Trauma: prison life is a traumatic experience, ripped away from lo