Weaving together threads presented throughout this text, this section will focus largely on the long-term crisis in U.S. prisons and jails – a result of a “punitive turn” that is now a half-century old, but refuses to fade. While the past decade has been dotted with sporadic attempts to roll-back draconian sentencing and teeming prisons, the impacts of such reforms has been modest. Moreover, state and federal governments have failed to address the collateral damage(s) of mass incarceration, as well as the social-structural problems continue to fuel it: recurrent drug epidemics, shifting forms of organized crime, a decaying social safety net, and a national struggle to treat mental illness. You have likely seen some of the terms, charts, and statistics shown in the chapters that follow; if so, please consider why such stark data – if widely known – fails to mobilize change, and why our culture continues to emphasize punishment over all else.
There is no “knowledge probe” for this chapter; instead, please reflect on the above question as you read. The data shows us that mass punishment has not worked, so why do we remain oriented toward retribution?