What does society get out of keeping Bernie Madoff in prison?
March 30, 2013 2:12 PM   Subscribe

What are some resources (academic or official) that help explain why incarceration is still the primary means by which the US punishes crime (felony/serious misdemeanor)?

I am specifically looking for "reform process" data and discussion: people who can provide explanations like "due to this group's actions, this type of reform is unlikely to pass Congress" or "this collection of stakeholders has consistently lobbied state governments to maintain high sentencing standards" or "these particular office holders have made lengthy incarceration a top priority and they keep getting reelected" or "this one law professor at [university] is a huge advocate for prisons as the core of the reform system and [these judges/lawyers] are in top positions and they all think like he did because he was their professor."

Not so much interested, however, in people whose explanations are like "because Western society has become fixated on this particular concept [retributive justice, etc.]" or "the [drug war/deinstutionalization/other] was so overwhelming people didn't think they had a choice."

(Please focus on resources rather than random opinions, if you can. I have many random opinions, but I need to find good data and reliable sources to sort through which ones are accurate.)
posted by SMPA to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Incarceration isn't the primary means by which the US punishes crime. Between 2000-2011, the number of individuals on parole or probation has consistently been over double the number of those who are incarcerated in jail or prison.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 3:14 PM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Rephrase it then: resources explaining why we punish this kind of crime (again, serious misdemeanors and all felonies) with so many prison sentences?

This 2000 document talks about figures like 60% of felons being sentenced to some kind of custodial sentence, here's a random example of state sentencing guidelines that leave the matter up to judges in some cases but have presumptive sentences of 1 year or more for all felonies, and hybrid first-prison-then-probation/supervised-release sentences are also a factor; and frankly, the entire parole/probation system uses prison time as a stick over the heads of the participants to ensure compliance.
posted by SMPA at 3:36 PM on March 30, 2013

For a look at federal sentencing policy, I recommend Fear of Judging by Stith and Cabranes. Just keep in mind that state governments and sentencing schemes can operate quite differently from the federal government (and federal criminal law generally addresses a more specific subset of offenses, like drug crime and white collar crime).
posted by Carmelita Spats at 10:03 PM on March 30, 2013

Thank you, Carmelita Spats.

Everyone else: I have many random opinions, but I need to find good data and reliable sources to sort through which ones are accurate.
posted by SMPA at 10:24 PM on March 30, 2013

[A couple of comments deleted. As the OP says above and explains in the post, they are looking for academic or official resources or similar.]
posted by taz (staff) at 10:34 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

A general resource here woudl probably be the National Institute of Justice, a federal agency that is the research arm of the USDOJ (and not to be confused with the private "Institute of Justice", which is sort of a right-wing analogue to the ACLU). There's an entire page on Corrections-related topics.
posted by dhartung at 1:58 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Doug Berman is one of the most prominent bloggers on federal sentencing law and policy. His blog, Federal Sentencing Law and Policy, is aptly named. He has a lot of statutory interpretation stuff that will not be responsive to your question (e.g., does someone who trades guns for drugs get a higher sentence because he "used" a gun in committing the crime? What if he trades drugs for guns?), but you may find what you're looking for.
posted by Xalf at 3:29 PM on April 1, 2013

I'm not an expert so I can't cite specific papers but penology is a thing, and there are journals (list from SAGE) devoted to it you could search through.

It doesn't directly answer the part of your question about current sentencing policy but have you read Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishments? It's one of those foundational documents that the rest of the field is built on, like Thucydides is for History.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:16 PM on April 2, 2013

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