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Perverse Politics: The Persistence of Mass Imprisonment in the 21st Century

Perverse Politics: The Persistence of Mass Imprisonment in the Twenty-first Century

Rebecca U. Thorpe

This paper examines the political consequences of prison development in the United States. It theorizes that the prison apparatus not only upholds a system of racial hierarchy and class stratification, but also links the economic stability of lower-class, rural whites to the continued penal confinement of poor, urban minorities. Analysis of an original dataset suggests that local reliance on existing prison infrastructure throughout many economically-depressed rural communities strengthens political support for harsh criminal punishments and militates against reform efforts. Political representatives have powerful interests in protecting rural prison investments, regardless of their actual economic impact in host communities. The evidence indicates that rural prison development contributes to the perceived economic viability and political power of rural areas, while reinforcing forms of punishment that destabilize poor urban neighborhoods and harm politically marginalized populations.

Perverse Politics: The Persistence of Mass Imprisonment in the 21st Century, by Rebecca U. Thorpe, Perspectives on Politics / Volume 13 / Issue 03 / September 2015, pp 618-637