As most observers are well aware by now, the US incarcerates a much higher proportion of its population than any other nation. In Jeffrey Bellin’s book, Mass Incarceration Nation, he conceives of the system as having two distinct levels.
First, the criminal justice system where the public seeks “justice” in response to serious crimes like murder and rape. And the criminal legal system, “where the government enforces a variety of laws ostensibly to achieve certain policy goals, like reducing drug abuse or gun violence or illegal immigration.”
Bellin argues that while the increase in those serious crimes in the 1970s and 1980s did lead to a tough-on-crime crackdown, “Increasing the penalties for crime in this country didn’t end crime.”
Instead, it ebbs and flows as it has.
But what has changed is that our “tough-on-crime” policies have now filled prisons with a “small percentage but growing number of unlucky ‘criminals’” and, once there, “tougher laws and tougher officials made sure they stayed locked up.”
Listen as Jeffrey Bellin joins Everyday Injustice this week to talk about mass incarceration and the implications of the increased enforcement of the criminal legal portion of the system.