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Prisons Research at the Beginning of the 21st Century

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2000
13 pages
This essay reviews and critiques the current state of prisons research at the beginning of the 21st century.
The 1990s witnessed both a massive increase in the numbers of people imprisoned in the United States and a reduction in the crime rate that had been soaring since the 1960s. It is difficult to say with certainty, however, whether the increased use of imprisonment led to the reduction in the crime rate. While the many factors impacting the crime rate make such determinations murky at best, it is possible to know the second-order questions regarding the effects of imprisonment, and of various prison regimes and programs, on prisoners, their families, their communities, prison staff, and public spending. Despite the fact that there are many answerable questions regarding imprisonment, surprisingly little is known, which means that policymakers have been driving imprisonment policies in the absence of substantive research regarding its consequences. The current state of research concerning the collateral effects of imprisonment, such as the impact that imprisonment has on families, is critiqued followed by a discussion of the research on the crime control effects of imprisonment, which is a relatively small collection of research projects that has produced inconclusive results. Research into the effects of prisons on both prisoners and prison staff is similarly reviewed, followed by an exploration of the prison management literature, which is primarily concerned with understanding how order can best be maintained in prisons. Finally, the authors explain that the political economy of American prisons has drastically changed over the past 25 years with prison management increasingly coming under the private rather than the public domain. In closing the authors call for more research about prisons given their ubiquitous nature in American society. References

Date Published: September 1, 2000