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date: 08 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay focuses in greater detail on sources of the massive increase in US prison admissions in the late 20th century. It argues that subtle, and not so subtle, shifts in policy and practice lead to changes in the way people approach crime prevention and control, and those shifts ultimately explain changing rates of incarceration. Elsewhere, these dynamics have been referred to as the “iron law” of prison populations. Explaining increases (or decreases) in prison populations is fairly straightforward-it is invariably a question of policies that drive prison populations up or down. Explaining what led to those policies, how they came to exist, and why they were deemed necessary is much more complicated. The recent downturn in incarceration rates is also considered within this framework.

Keywords: mass incarceration, US prison admissions, crime prevention, incarceration rates, “iron law” of prison populations

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