Over the past three decades, the United States has built a carceral state that is unprecedented among Western countries and in US history. The emergence and consolidation of the US carceral state are a major milestone in American political development.The explosive growth of the prison population and the retributive turn in US penal policy are well documented. But the political causes and consequences of this massive expansion are not well understood. This is starting to change. During the past decade or so, scholars in criminology, sociology, and law, recently joined by a few political scientists, have produced outstanding works on the connection between politics and the origins of the carceral state. Recently, the wider political consequences and analytical implications of the carceral state are a new and expanding area of interest. The carceral state has grown so huge that it has begun to transform fundamental democratic institutions, from free and fair elections to an accurate and representative census. The findings of scholars of the carceral state prompt us to rethink claims about issues in the study of American politics that may seem far afield from criminal justice, including voter turnout and the “vanishing voter,” the achievements of the US model of neoliberal economic development in the 1990s, and the triumph of the modern Republican Party in national politics. Scholarship on the carceral state also raises other important issues about power and resistance for marginalized and stigmatized groups.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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