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date: 09 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article explores why the United States and the United Kingdom have acquired such a deep cultural attachment to the prison. Section I introduces the history of prisons and the development of imprisonment as the primary means of punishment in Western industrialized nations. It paints the history of imprisonment with very broad brushstrokes, highlighting a few key moments in the development of the prison that leave a persistent legacy and continue to shape our understanding of prisons today. Section II explores recent history (since the 1960s) and attempts to account for the dramatic increases and racial disparities in the US prison population during a period when overall crime rates were declining. Section III examines the sociological and psychological literature on the “effects” of imprisonment and considers the particular problems of drugs, mental illness, and suicide in prisons. Section IV reflects on some of the most salient and challenging issues that are raised.

Keywords: United States, United Kingdom, imprisonment, punishment, racial disparities, prison population

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