The place of punishment: Variation in the provision of inmate services staff across the punitive turn

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Despite the growing literature on the punitive turn, knowledge of how the experience of American imprisonment varied across time and place remains limited. This article begins to fill that gap, providing a nuanced portrayal of variation in the practices of rehabilitation. Purpose: To examine how one aspect of the rehabilitative ideal in practice-the provision of staff dedicated to inmate services-varied across time and place over the past 30. years. Methods: The article presents statistics on the inmate-to-staff ratios for inmate services staff (including teachers, counselors, doctors, etc.) between the years 1979 and 2005 for all 50 U.S. states. Results: The analyses reveal that while there was a substantial decline in the services staff ratio during the 1990s and 2000s, this shift across time paled in comparison to variation across place. Northeastern prison systems, for example, on average maintained higher inmate services staff ratios in 2005 than Southern states in any year. In addition, results suggest state variation is related to differences in prison crowding, inmates' racial composition, and political cultures. Conclusions: The findings suggest the punitive turn was more variegated and partial than is often assumed and highlight the importance of exploring state variation in penal practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)348-357
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Criminal Justice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Special thanks to Devah Pager, Malcolm Feeley, Chris Uggen, Philip Goodman, Kim Lane Scheppele, Mona Lynch, attendees at the 2010 Law & Society Association Annual Meeting and 2011 American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting (where earlier drafts of this article were presented), and the journal editors for an array of useful comments and critiques. Thanks also to the Joint Degree Program in Social Policy, the Sociology Department, and the Office of Population Research at Princeton University for material and intellectual support during the completion of this work. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-0646086 and by the Department of Education's Jacobs K. Javits Fellowship .


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