Politics and State Punitiveness in Black and White


Jeff Yates (jyates@uga.edu) is associate professor of political science, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-1615.

Richard C. Fording (rford@uky.edu) is associate professor of political science, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0027.


Recent findings from the literature on imprisonment policy suggest that in addition to traditional social and economic variables, imprisonment rates are also strongly related to changes in the state political environment. In this study, we extend this literature by testing a theory of state punitiveness which posits that (1) the political environment of states influences the degree to which they incarcerate their citizens, and (2) the political determinants of state punitiveness may be conditional upon the racial subpopulation being incarcerated. Our results suggest that increases in state political conservatism in recent decades have contributed to increases in both the growth in black imprisonment rates and black imprisonment disparity (relative to whites), but that these effects are, to a degree, tempered by countervailing political conditions.