The Problems With Prison
Nevertheless, it's encouraging to see that there's scholarly support for, and increasing political attention to, the view that the modern prison system, rather than restoring people and communities damaged by crime, actually functions to destroy people and communities and thereby breed more suffering and crime.
|... In this view, the system takes men with limited education and job skills and stigmatizes them in a way that makes it hard for them to find jobs, slashes their wages when they do find them, and brands them as bad future spouses. The effects of imprisonment ripple out from prisoners, breaking up families and further impoverishing neighborhoods, creating the conditions for more crime down the road. Prisons have grown into potent "engines of inequality," in the words of sociologist Bruce Western; the penal system, he and other scholars suggest, actively widens the gap between the poor - especially poor black men - and everyone else.|
... The issue has arrived on the public agenda in part because of the work done by a handful of leading sociologists. Western's 2006 book "Punishment and Inequality in America" is a key work in this new scholarly movement. Devah Pager, a Princeton sociologist, has been making headlines since her dissertation, completed in 2002 at the University of Wisconsin, demonstrated how a criminal record - even for nonviolent drug offenses - made it nearly impossible for black ex-convicts in Milwaukee to land a job. This month, a book based on that work, "Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration," appears in bookstores. And the sociologist Lawrence Bobo, who left Harvard for Stanford two years ago but is returning in January, has been investigating how the growing black prison population is eroding African-Americans' confidence in the rule of law.