Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Glenn Loury on “Spatially Concentrated Imprisonment”

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Over at the Crime Report, Glenn Loury has a new essay on the heavy burden of mass incarceration on American families, neighborhoods, and society. He emphasizes the uneven spatial (and racial) allocation of that burden:

…incarceration in American cities is highly concentrated spatially. The ill effects for individuals of having spent time behind bars can reduce social opportunities for others who reside in the most heavily impacted communities and who themselves have done nothing wrong.

Some urban neighborhoods have as many as one in five of their adult men locked-up on any given day. Such spatially concentrated imprisonment fosters criminality because it undermines the informal social processes of order maintenance, which are the primary means of sustaining law-abiding behavior in all communities. Families living in areas of hyper-incarceration have been rendered less effective at inculcating in their children the delinquency-resistant self controls and pro-social attitudes that typically insulate youths against law-breaking.

Loury also has some interesting thoughts on the interplay between personal and social responsibility. See also his 2009 essay for Cato@Liberty:

This punitive turn in the nation’s social policy is intimately connected, I would maintain, with public rhetoric about responsibility, dependency, social hygiene, and the reclamation of public order. And such rhetoric, in turn, can be fully grasped only when viewed against the backdrop of America’s often ugly and violent racial history: There is a reason why our inclination toward forgiveness and the extension of a second chance to those who have violated our behavioral strictures is so stunted, and why our mainstream political discourses are so bereft of self-examination and searching social criticism.

Written by sara

August 19, 2010 at 10:53 am

One Response

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  1. Do these spatially concentrated neighborhoods become victims of the over concentration of law enforcement efforts? and if so, do these LE efforts perpetuate the cycle of continued criminal behaviors, or do they protect the remaining fragile social network by removing the originators of these egregious behaviors?

    harry flashman

    August 20, 2010 at 4:47 pm

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