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Perverse Politics: The Persistence of Mass Imprisonment in the Twenty-first Century

  • Rebecca U. Thorpe
Abstract

I examine the political consequences of prison development in the United States. I theorize that the prison apparatus not only upholds a system of racial hierarchy and class stratification, but also links the economic stability of lower-class, rural whites to the continued penal confinement of poor, urban minorities. Analysis of an original dataset suggests that local reliance on existing prison infrastructure throughout many economically-depressed rural communities strengthens political support for harsh criminal punishments and militates against reform efforts. Political representatives have powerful interests in protecting rural prison investments, regardless of their actual economic impact in host communities. The evidence indicates that rural prison development contributes to the perceived economic viability and political power of rural areas, while reinforcing forms of punishment that destabilize poor urban neighborhoods and harm politically marginalized populations.

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