The Evolution of Prisons since the 1960s

Mass incarceration is often conceptualized as a broad structural change in American society. Various macro- and meso-scale frameworks have been used to explain it, whether this is cultural and socio-economic change, the reassertion of post-Civil Rights era white supremacist racial order, changing sensibilities toward crime and “others,” local political conflict and the rise of law-and-order style electoral strategies. But, the mass incarceration era has also included significant changes in the nature of imprisonment itself. Accounts of these changes don’t necessarily align with these broader explanations or include developments that the authors in the first part of the course did not address. How have prisons’ internal order changed over this period? What does it mean to be incarcerated in the late 20th and early 21st centuries? What goals are prisons meant to achieve now? How to them conceptualize inmate reform? What rights do prisoners have now and how has this changed since the 1950/60s?

Drawing on a minimum of 3 readings we’ve had thus far, as well as the class discussions and lectures that you find useful, write a 3-4 page essay assessing some of the ways that prisons have changed since the 1960s and with the arrival of the mass incarceration era.

What theories, explanations, historical events, or trends make the most sense to you in thinking about how prisons have changed? What do you think is less important? What do you see as missing or perhaps underappreciated part of this story? Does any of what we’ve talked about have some personal importance for you or resonate with experiences you’ve had in other classes or other settings? What you should focus on is what you felt most compelling in the readings we’ve had so far and why.

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