Explaining U.S. Imprisonment examines women in prison, minorities, the historical path to the modern prison, a wide range of contemporary issues, and social influences on prison reform. While focusing on prisons, this one-of-a-kind book is written within the context of the sociology of punishment and covers cutting-edge topics such as detaining immigrants, the War on Terror, and prison in the 21st century.


  • Uses a historical and social framework to place U.S. corrections and imprisonment policies in context
  • Includes first-hand accounts from inmates, as well as primary source documents written by early prison reformers
  • Integrates research on women, men, and minorities throughout, rather than separating each topic into a stand-alone chapter
  • Begins chapters with thought-provoking quotes to set the stage for the content that follows

Explaining U.S. Imprisonment is ideal for use as a supplementary text in undergraduate and graduate courses on corrections, imprisonment, and theories of punishment. It is also appropriate for use in courses on criminal justice, incarceration, minority issues in law, sociology of law, and the study of the modern prison system.

Introduction: Explaining U.S. Imprisonment

Introduction: Explaining U.S. imprisonment

Those who look for philosophical consistency in prison policies are apt not to find it.

(Toch, 1997, p. 4).

The United States has a punishment system that no one would knowingly have built from the ground up. It is often unjust, it is unduly severe, it is wasteful, and it does enormous damage to the lives of black Americans.

(Tonry, 2004, p. vii).

Life in prison is frustration and loneliness and boredom and futility.

(Runyon, 1954, p. 9)

The United States has the dubious honor of incarcerating more people per capita than any other nation, whether industrialized, democratic, undemocratic, or developing. It comes first in all published listings of incarceration rates, and has done so for some time.1 Presently more than one person per ...

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