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Gottschalk Hiding in Plain Sight

Gottschalk Hiding in Plain Sight

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Hiding in Plain Sight: American Politics andthe Carceral State
 Marie Gottschalk 
Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia,Pennsylvania 19104; email: mgottsch@sas.upenn.edu Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2008.11:235–60First published online as a Review in Advance on January 8, 2008 The
Annual Review of Political Science
is online athttp://polisci.annualreviews.org This article’s doi:10.1146/annurev.polisci.11.060606.135218Copyrightc
2008 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved1094-2939/08/0615-0235$20.00
Key Words
mass incarceration, criminal justice, penal policy, massimprisonment
Over the past three decades, the United States has built a carceralstate that is unprecedented among Western countries and in UShistory. The emergence and consolidation of the US carceral stateareamajormilestoneinAmericanpoliticaldevelopment.Theexplo-sive growth of the prison population and the retributive turn in USpenal policy are well documented. But the political causes and con-sequences of this massive expansion are not well understood. This isstartingtochange.Duringthepastdecadeorso,scholarsincriminol-ogy, sociology, and law, recently joined by a few political scientists,have produced outstanding works on the connection between poli-tics and the origins of the carceral state. Recently, the wider politicalconsequences and analytical implications of the carceral state are anew and expanding area of interest. The carceral state has grown sohuge that it has begun to transform fundamental democratic institu-tions, from free and fair elections to an accurate and representativecensus. The findings of scholars of the carceral state prompt us torethinkclaimsaboutissuesinthestudyofAmericanpoliticsthatmay seemfarafieldfromcriminaljustice,includingvoterturnoutandthe“vanishing voter,” the achievements of the US model of neoliberaleconomic development in the 1990s, and the triumph of the mod-ernRepublicanPartyinnationalpolitics.Scholarshiponthecarceralstate also raises other important issues about power and resistancefor marginalized and stigmatized groups.
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 The study of crime, punishment, and politicsremains a major blind spot in political sci-ence. Graduate students in American politicsare expected to be familiar with Tocqueville’s
Democracy in America
, but few political sci-entists know that prisons, not democracy, werewhatinitiallybroughtTocquevilletotheUnited States. Pressured by the Chamber of Deputies to hasten reform of France’s penalsystem, the Minister of the Interior awardeda commission to 25-year-old Tocqueville andhis traveling companion Gustave de Beau-mont to study the American penitentiary, whichhadbecomeworldfamousbythe1830s. Tocqueville collected notes for his classicstudy of the social and political conditionsof the new republic as he and Beaumonttraveled from prison to prison, interviewing wardens and prisoners and collecting dataabout everything from living conditions todisciplinary practices. Tocqueville’s paeans todemocracyin
Democracyin America
arewidely cited. Yet his and Beaumont’s dark observa-tions about the connection between the penalsystem and American democracy are seldomnoted, except by a small circle of criminolo-gists. Beaumont & Tocqueville (1979 [1833],p. 79) warned nearly 200 years ago: “Whilesociety in the United States gives the exampleofthemostextendedliberty,theprisonsofthesame country offer the spectacle of the mostcomplete despotism.” Theirgrimconclusionsareevenmoretruetoday.Overthepastthreedecades,theUnitedStateshasbuiltacarceralstatethatisunprece-dentedamongWesterncountries.Nearlyonein every 100 adults in the United States isin jail or prison
(calculated from Harrison& Beck 2006, p. 1, and US Census Bureau,Population Division, n.d.). In a period dom-
Prisonsgenerallyarestateorfederalfacilitiesforthelong-term housing of convicted felons. Jails are county or city facilities that hold pretrial defendants, offenders convictedof misdemeanors, and felons serving short sentences.
inated by calls to roll back the governmentin all areas of social and economic policy, we have witnessed its massive expansion inthe realm of penal policy since the 1970s. The US incarceration rate is now more than737 per 100,000 residents (Harrison & Beck 2006, p. 2), or 5–12 times the rate of WesternEuropean countries and Japan (InternationalCentre for Prison Studies 2007). The reachof the US carceral state extends far beyondthe 2.3 million men and women currently im-prisoned in the United States. On any givenday,morethansevenmillionpeople—1inev-ery 32 adults—are incarcerated or on proba-tionorparoleorundersomeformofcommu-nitysupervision(Glaze&Bonczar2006,p.1). Thisrateofstatesupervisionisunprecedentedin US history, but even these startling figureshardly hint at the enormous and dispropor-tionateimpactthatthisboldsocialexperimenthashadoncertaingroupsinUSsociety.Ifcur-rent trends continue, one in three black menand one in six Hispanic men are expected tospend some time in jail or prison during theirlives (Bonczar 2003, p. 1). The emergence and consolidation of theUS carceral state constitute a major mile-stone in American political development thatarguably rivals in significance the expansionand contraction of the welfare state in thepostwar period. What we have witnessed isa “durable shift in governing authority,” touse Orren & Skowronek’s (2004, p. 123) el-egant definition of what constitutes politicaldevelopment.Thestatebegantoexercisevastnew controls over millions of people, result-ing in a remarkable change in the distribu-tion of authority in favor of law enforcementand corrections at the local, state, and federallevels. This explosion in the size of the prisonpopulation and the retributive turn in USpenal policy are well documented. But theunderlying political causes and wider polit-ical consequences of this massive expansionare not well understood. Political scientistshave traditionally left the study of crime and
236 Gottschalk
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andortho-dox criminologists have tended to view thepolitical aspects of crime and punishment “asboth too simple and too elusive to warranttheir attention” (Scheingold 1998, p. 860). Thestudyofcrimeandpunishmenthasbeenaripe field for historians, but their insights andfindings have had little bearing on discussionsof the politics of contemporary penal policy in the United States.Political science’s recent neglect of thepoliticsofcrimeandpunishmentissurprising. After all, punishment “is a universal attributeof regimes” and yet is “one of their mostdifficult tasks” (McBride 2007, p. 4). Theproblem of the prison was central to the work of major political theorists of the eighteenthand nineteenth centuries. The role of punish-ment and imprisonment in maintaining socialorder, legitimating the state, and reformingthe soul were key concerns of Mill, Bentham,Kant, Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and FrancisLieber, regarded as the first political scientist. Years ago, prisons also transfixed the public. American penitentiaries were a prime sight-seeing destination for foreign and domestictourists. By contrast, the contemporary carceral state has been largely invisible. Thecauses of the country’s incarceration boom,and the political, social, and economic conse-quences of this unprecedented experiment inpublic policy, have not been a major focus of social science research or public concern. This is starting to change. In the pastdecade or so, research into the phenomenonof mass imprisonment has produced someoutstanding works in criminology, sociology,and law on the connection between politicsand the rise of the carceral state. Drawing onthiswork,ahandfulofpoliticalscientistshavebegun to shift their gaze to the carceral state.Initially, they focused on its political origins.
 There are important exceptions, such as John J. DiIulio, Jr., Tali Mendelberg, Austin Sarat, Stuart Scheingold, Wesley G. Skogan, and James Q. Wilson.
Recently, the wider political consequencesand analytical implications of the carceralstate have become an expanding area of inter-est. There is a growing recognition that theexistence of such a large carceral state em-bedded in a democratic polity has enormousrepercussionsthatreverberatethroughoutthepolitical system and beyond. The metastasiz-ing carceral state has begun to threaten fun-damental democratic institutions, everythingfrom free and fair elections to an accurate andrepresentative census. Furthermore, the riseof the carceral state has helped to legitimate anew mode of “governing through crime” thathas spread well beyond the criminal justicesystem to other core institutions, includingthe executive branch, schools, and the work-place (Simon 2007). The findings of scholarsof the carceral state are cause for us to re-think claims about a wide range of issues inthe study of American politics, some of themfar afield from criminal justice: voter turnoutand the “vanishing voter,” the much-vauntedachievements of the US model of neoliberaleconomic development in the 1990s, and thetriumph of the modern Republican Party innational politics, to name just a few.
Explanations for the establishment of thecarceral state vary enormously, but many of them do have one thing in common. They adopt a relatively short time frame as they focus on trying to identify what changed inthe United States since the 1960s to disruptits generally stable and unexceptional incar-ceration rate and to bring back capital pun-ishment with a vengeance. The main politicalexplanations include an escalating crime rateand related shifts in public opinion (DiIulio1997; Wilson 1975, p. xvi), the war on drugs(Caplow & Simon 1999, pp. 92–93; Gordon1994;Tonry1995),theemergenceoftheprof-itable prison-industrial complex (Abramsky 
American Politics and the Carceral State 237
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