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A New Perspective on the Carceral State

A New Perspective on the Carceral State

(p.1) Chapter One A New Perspective on the Carceral State
Building the Prison State
Heather Schoenfeld
University of Chicago Press

This chapter introduces the core claims, concepts, and contributions of the book. It argues that mass incarceration was not inevitable. Policymakers had to choose to build state capacity to arrest, process, and punish people deemed criminal. Examining decisions to build carceral capacity provides a new way to understand the development of the carceral state, or the network of people and institutions responsible for the United States’ system of criminal punishment. A political developmental perspective draws attention to the interaction of national and subnational policy and politics in creating the carceral state. It also contributes to current debates about the role of crime, media, and public opinion in fostering politicians’ support for punitive policies. Finally, this perspective incorporates the role of race in the development of the carceral state through the device of racial projects, or collective actors’ response to historical racial hierarchies, which inform policymakers’ penal policy decisions.

Keywords:   mass incarceration, carceral state, carceral capacity, penal policy, race, racial projects

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