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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.
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.
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Review by Travis Starnes
The Punishment Imperative is an in-depth look at the growth of the prison population and some of the things that led to the fivefold increase in the number of incarcerated over the last 35 years.
This is a subject I find completely interesting and a topic that I think is important for most Americans to know about and discuss. There is no argument that the prison population in the US is growing at an astonishing rate and this book is one of the better attempts I have read in explaining why things are the way they are.
The writing style of this book isn’t bad. In fact in comparison to many books focusing on sociological studies it does an excellent job of presenting information in a conversational style. Most books in this genre tend to be on the bland side and come off closer to text books rather than something you might read for pleasure. That being said the authors are still academics tackling a subject with data. What that really means is no matter how flowing the writing style is there is no way to escape the dense push of data that the reader is hit with. They do what they can to lessen the impact but this will never be a book you will read for pure entertainment. It is slow to start off as the authors try and give the reader enough background, incredible technical at points and presents an overwhelming amount of information.
The other major problem is the occasional self- referential nature of the book. There are many times when the authors refer to themselves or the current topic in preparation for a new section that comes off as a bit amateurish. This, plus the way the data is presented, leads this book to read more like an extremely well written sociology thesis rather than a self-contained book. This is true more in the first half then the second half of the book, but is always an issue.
As for the content of the book, their research is impeccable and they have some very interesting facts and conclusions about the current issue of prison population and criminal sentences. From a shear academic standpoint this is an excellent book that is worth reading. There is no doubt you will learn something from this book and take the issues much more seriously than before you picked it up.
If you are at all interested in this topic or have any political influence in this arena then this is a must read. For everyone else you will find it interesting but might not make it all the way through.