Our Prison State

The Hobbes Fan Club

Here’s an arresting statistic, courtesy of Vox.com: from 1811 and 1979, state and federal governments built 711 prisons in the U.S. Between 1980 and 2004, they built 936. Granted, the U.S. population grew quite a bit during that time so it’s natural to assume we may have needed to increase the rate of prison construction. Furthermore, increased population density generally correlates with a disproportionate increase in crime rate. But goodness.

The 1980s were a huge turning point in U.S. crime-fighting strategy. We adopted many different “tough-on-crime” policies at the state and federal level in an effort to solve what was a significant public problem. While they were publicly credited with the dramatic decreases in crime we’ve seen since the mid-90s, sociologists disagree on the actual cause(s). Theories range from the Donohue-Levitt abortion hypothesis to Kevin Drum’s report that lead exposure corrupted so many brains. Whatever the causal mechanisms, one of…

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