The transformation of America's penal order: A historicized political sociology of punishment

Michael C. Campbell, Heather Schoenfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


Comparative historical methods are used to explain the transformation of the U.S. penal order in the second half of the 20th century. The analysis of multiple state-level case studies and national-level narratives suggests that this transformation has three distinct, but interconnected, historical periods and reveals that the complex interaction between national and state-level politics and policy helps explain the growth in imprisonment between 1970 and 2001. Specifically, over time, national political competition, federal crime control policy, and federal court decisions helped create new state-level political innovation and special interest groups that compelled lawmakers to increasingly define the crime problem as a lack of punishment and to respond by putting more people in prison for longer periods of time. In turn, state-level developments facilitated increasingly radical crime control politics and policies at the national level that reflected historical traditions found in Sun Belt states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1375-1423
Number of pages49
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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