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The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America, Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost

Reviewed by Marc Meredith



Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost present an impressively comprehensive summary of the politics and policies that caused the massive expansion of the American correctional system. They conclude that this buildup failed to achieve most of its goals and provide a road map for how it could be disman­tled. In doing so, they pull off the difficult task of writing a book that an advanced undergraduate would find sufficiently accessible while putting forth theory and policy proposals that will interest scholars of criminal justice, political science, and public policy.

Clear and Frost trace the expansion of the correctional system back to the dramatic increase in the crime rate in the 1960s. They contend that candidates from both parties began adopting more punitive positions after Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan successfully used crime as an issue in their presidential campaigns. When making this argument, Clear and Frost’s implicit assumption is that crime policy responds to public opinion. In a piece published in the October 2014 issue of the American Journal of Political Science titled “The Public’s Increasing Punitiveness and Its Influence on Mass Incarceration in the United States,” Peter K. Enns finds relatively strong evidence supporting this conjecture. Yet we stil

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