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Place and Punishment in an Era of Mass Incarceration

  • Vera Institute of Justice 233 Broadway, 12th Floor New York, NY (map)

Over the last four decades, mass imprisonment transformed the character of poverty and community life in the United States. However, few studies have examined community conditions of incarceration beyond large, metropolitan cities. In an analysis of a unique spatial dataset of prison admissions in Massachusetts (1973-2014), Prof. Jessica Simes will explore the historical trajectory of mass incarceration as it relates to local conditions of racial segregation, poverty, crime, and patterns of social control. Findings show racial disparities in incarceration vary distinctly by place—across metropolitan cities, smaller central cities, suburbs, and towns. In addition, the spatial pattern of imprisonment has changed dramatically over the course of the prison boom, pointing to isolated urban and suburban areas with extreme levels of state prison admissions and a pattern of “concentrated decarceration” in Boston. In sum, mass incarceration emerged not just to manage distinctively urban social problems but was characteristic of a broader mode of governance that could be seen in communities often far-removed from deep inner-city poverty.