A previous version of this article was presented at Temple University, Princeton University, Columbia University's Incarceration Working Group, the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, and the Cornell University Brett De Bary Mellon Writing Group: Immobility, Surveillance, and Detention. I would like to thank Jason Barabas, Traci Burch, Shawn Bushway, Tamar Carroll, Armando Garcia, Michael Hagen, Desmond Jagmohan, Mary Katzenstein, Amy Lerman, Megan Mullin, Emily Owens, Devah Pager, Dave Peterson, Mark Ramirez, Jim Schechter, Anna Marie Smith, Chris Wlezien, and John Zaller for helpful comments, and I thank Nikhil Kumar for outstanding research assistance.
The Public's Increasing Punitiveness and Its Influence on Mass Incarceration in the United States
Article first published online: 5 MAR 2014
©2014, Midwest Political Science Association
American Journal of Political Science
Volume 58, Issue 4, pages 857–872, October 2014
How to Cite
Enns, P. K. (2014), The Public's Increasing Punitiveness and Its Influence on Mass Incarceration in the United States. American Journal of Political Science, 58: 857–872. doi: 10.1111/ajps.12098
An online appendix with supplementary material for this article is available at the AJPS Website. Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numerical results will be made available at http://thedata.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/Enns and the AJPS Data Archive on Dataverse (http://dvn.iq.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/ajps).
- Issue published online: 13 OCT 2014
- Article first published online: 5 MAR 2014
Following more than 30 years of rising incarceration rates, the United States now imprisons a higher proportion of its population than any country in the world. Building on theories of representation and organized interest group behavior, this article argues that an increasingly punitive public has been a primary reason for this prolific expansion. To test this hypothesis, I generate a new over-time measure of the public's support for being tough on crime. The analysis suggests that, controlling for the crime rate, illegal drug use, inequality, and the party in power, since 1953 public opinion has been a fundamental determinant of changes in the incarceration rate. If the public's punitiveness had stopped rising in the mid-1970s, the results imply that there would have been approximately 20% fewer incarcerations. Additionally, an analysis of congressional attention to criminal justice issues supports the argument that the public's attitudes have led, not followed, political elites.