Summary Of Why Mass Incarceration Matters

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In 2010, historian Heather Thompson published the paper, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History. Within this comprehensive article, Thompson analyzes the social and economic effects of mass incarceration in the last third of the twentieth-century, and explains why historians must take on this important aspect of American history. The three areas she analyzes concern mass incarceration and the origins of the urban crisis, the decline of the American Labor Movement, and the rise of the Right in postwar America. Not only did (does) mass incarceration permanently criminalize individuals in society and deter them from reaching their full potential, it also negatively impacted urban …show more content…

The end of the twentieth century saw the demise of the great cities of the United States. After World War II, “…cities were, at least in the popular and commercial imagination, the lifeblood of the nation” (Thompson, 706). The same could not be said at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Among other aspects, of course, mass incarceration changed the way urbanites lived in unprecedented ways. New punitive drug legislation and extensive prison terms, directed at men and women of color especially, soared the prison population across the country. Even minor offenses, and more surprisingly, mere association with various illegal drugs guaranteed years behind bars. Furthermore, “due” to the uprisings for racial and civil equality, school district officials across the nation embraced more severe penalties and employed law enforcement to …show more content…

Sugrue focuses on the economic and racial inequalities that have plagued America for over a hundred years. Just like Heather Thompson, Sugrue realizes that there is a plethora of factors that contributed to the urban crisis, and no one-factor can be blamed for America’s urban decline. However, Sugrue believes, “… that capitalism generates economic inequality and that African Americans have disproportionately borne the impact of that inequality” (The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 5). These two factors fall into the arguments made by Heather Thompson (although for she does not directly name capitalism, it is the umbrella that covers the economic effects of mass incarceration). Sugrue continues to argue that, “…the coincidence and mutual reinforcement of race, economics, and politics in a particular historical moment, the period from the 1940s to the 1960s, set the stage for the fiscal, social, and economic crises that confront urban America today” (The Origins of the Urban Crisis, 5). While Sugrue is correct in this statement and Thompson would presumably agree with him, she would be disappointed to see that he left out the effect of mass incarceration and the expansion of the carceral state. Although, it could be argued that mass incarceration “fits” into the broad categories laid out by Sugrue. However, it still does not provide the necessary information about mass incarceration, thus proving Thompson’s point that mass

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