Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

Incarceration Nation
How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World


  • Date Published: June 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316500613

£ 18.99

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Looking for an inspection copy?

This title is not currently available on inspection

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • The rise of mass incarceration in the United States is one of the most critical outcomes of the last half-century. Incarceration Nation offers the most compelling explanation of this outcome to date. This book combines in-depth analysis of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon's presidential campaigns with sixty years of data analysis. The result is a sophisticated and highly accessible picture of the rise of mass incarceration. In contrast to conventional wisdom, Peter K. Enns shows that during the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, politicians responded to an increasingly punitive public by pushing policy in a more punitive direction. The book also argues that media coverage of rising crime rates helped fuel the public's punitiveness. Equally as important, a decline in public punitiveness in recent years offers a critical window into understanding current bipartisan calls for criminal justice reform.

    • Upends conventional wisdom about the rise of mass incarceration in the United States
    • The material is presented in an accessible and engaging way without compromising analytical rigor
    • Combines archival research with unparalleled new data not analyzed before
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Did Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, and other elected officials generate the 'tough on crime' political attitudes that led to the rapid rise in incarceration beginning in the 1970s? Or was it a more general trend reflecting shifting media portrayals of crime and powerful forces in public opinion? In this path-breaking and rigorous analysis, Peter Enns answers these questions. And he also gives cause for hope that, with shifting public understandings of the nature of crime and the appropriate response to it, our long national infatuation with incarceration may have already come to an end. It is a methodological tour de force, of interest not only to those concerned with criminal justice, but also to those interested in a more general question: what is, and should be, the role of public opinion in determining public policy outcomes in a democracy?' Frank R. Baumgartner, Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and coauthor of The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence

    'This is an historic moment for criminal justice reform, with unprecedented bipartisan support for reducing prison populations. But in order to effectively dismantle mass incarceration, we must understand the forces that got us there. Peter Enns masterfully dissects the political and social processes that led to the US becoming the world's leader in incarceration, illustrating the central importance of mass public opinion in driving the punitive turn in correctional policy. The book is a welcome addition to the scholarship on mass incarceration, challenging many prevailing views and giving us important new insights on the past, present, and future of criminal justice reform.' Devah Pager, Harvard University

    'This book delivers a substantial and important account of the influence of mass opinion on criminal justice policy over more than half a century, with broader implications for the study of democratic politics. Enns's emphasis on dynamics develops a novel and distinctive approach to understanding the politics of crime in the United States that is also highly relevant to the rise of penal populism across a number of advanced democracies.' Will Jennings, University of Southampton

    'It is said every society gets the criminals it deserves, but we get the justice system that we want. In this highly impressive new book, Peter Enns demonstrates precisely this: the growth of the incarceration nation was no accident and we are all implicated. The good news is that public opinion is changing dramatically on this issue. Enns's important analysis gives me great hope that if we can build it, we can also knock it down.' Shadd Maruna, Dean, Rutgers School of Criminal Justice

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316500613
    • length: 184 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 153 x 11 mm
    • weight: 0.29kg
    • contains: 43 b/w illus. 14 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. A forgiving or a punitive public?
    3. Who led whom?
    4. Explaining the public's punitiveness
    5. Democracy at work? Public opinion and mass incarceration
    6. Punitive politics in the states
    7. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Peter K. Enns, Cornell University, New York
    Peter K. Enns is Associate Professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University, New York and former Faculty Director of Cornell's Prison Education Program. His previous research has appeared in journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, and Public Opinion Quarterly.

Related Books

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×
warning icon

Turn stock notifications on?

You must be signed in to your Cambridge account to turn product stock notifications on or off.

Sign in Create a Cambridge account arrow icon

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.