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date: 26 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay discusses changes in the composition of inmate populations in the United States over the past several decades based on legal factors (i.e., types of offenses and offenders) and demographic variables (i.e., race, ethnicity, age, and sex) and examines why variation in inmate composition matters. In particular, black incarceration rates are substantially greater than those of whites and Hispanics, and over time these differences have become more pronounced for black males in particular as compared to other groups. Possible reasons for these changes are considered such as the roles of police and courts in shaping inmate demographics and the implications of the shift from decision-making based on substantive rationality to more “structured“ (formally rational) decision-making.

Keywords: inmate composition, inmate populations, black incarceration rates, inmate demographics, substantive rationality, formally rational decision-making

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