The use of incarceration in the United States

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The past two decades have produced a profound increase in imprisonment in the United States, resulting in a prison population of two million and expenditures of over $35 billion annually on corrections, while other important government services are underfunded. Imprisonment is highest for minority males largely because of the War on Drugs, which has also dramatically increased the incarceration of women and created nearly 1.5 million children having a parent incarcerated. In response to this trend, the American Society of Criminology (ASC) directed the ASC National Policy Committee (NPC) to draft a policy paper on the incarceration issue. This article explains the main ideas, themes, and recommendations of the full policy paper. It analyzes the sources and effects of the increased use of imprisonment, drawing attention to the negative effects of excessive incarceration. The paper and its recommendations reflect a concern that the ASC needs to set a research agenda that is independent of the federal government and conventional wisdom. The NPC hopes this paper will stimulate a healthy and much overdue debate on the role of the ASC in public policy in general, and the merits of widespread incarceration in particular. © 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers.