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28 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 1239 (2011-2012)
The Micro and Macro Causes of Prison Growth

handle is hein.journals/gslr28 and id is 1257 raw text is: THE MICRO AND MACRO CAUSES OF PRISON
John F. Pfaff
Over the past four decades, prison populations in the United States
have exploded. As Figure 1 demonstrates, from the 1920s (when
reliable statistics first become available) through the mid-1970s, the
incarceration rate hovered around 100 per 100,000 people.' These
rates were so stable that a leading criminologist argued in 1979 that
political pressures would continue to keep the rate around 100 per
100,000.2 Thus, the subsequent quintupling of the incarceration rate
over the next forty years, with the prison population growing by over
1.3 million inmates, was an unexpected and unprecedented
Moreover, this boom was unique to the United States. While home
to only about 5% of the world's population, the United States
currently    contains nearly      25%    of the world's prisoners.4 And             the
Associate Professor, Fordham Law School. My thanks to Craig Langley at the Census Bureau for
providing me with the complete Annual Survey of Government Finances data set, and to participants at
the Georgia State University Law Review 2012 Symposium for helpful comments and questions. All
errors are my own.
1. Unless otherwise stated, incarceration rate refers to the prison incarceration rate, not the
aggregate prison-and-jail incarceration rate. In Figure 1, in custody and under jurisdiction refer to
two ways the Bureau of Justice Statistics counts inmates. A change in methods in 1977 led to a slight
discontinuous jump in that year.
2. Alfred Blumstein & Soumyo Moitra, An Analysis of the Time Series of the Imprisonment Rate in
the States of the United States: A Further Test of the Stability of Punishment Hypothesis, 70 J. CRIM. L.
& CRIMINOLOGY 376, 376 (1979). Specifically, they state that as prison populations rise, police can
choose not to arrest, prosecutors can choose not to press charges, judges can choose not to imprison, or
parole boards can choose to [sic] deny requests. Id. at 377.
should be pointed out that there is substantial variation across states in rates of prison growth. In
particular, five states (Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York) saw average annual
declines in prison populations over the entire 2000s. Id. at 3 fig.3.
4. Roy WALMSLEY, WORLD PRISON POPULATION LIST (8th ed. 2010). This list focuses on the
prison-and-jail incarceration rate, rather than the prison-specific rate. In 2010, inmates in jail made up
approximately 33% of all inmates (748,728 out of 2,266,832). See SOURCEBOOK OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE
STATISTICS ONLINE, available at http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t612010.pdf. Only China,
however, also has more than one million people in prison and jails combined: the United States prison
population is thus larger than the prison-and-jail populations in all other countries (except perhaps
China). WALMSLEY, supra, at 4.


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