Associate Professor of Sociology and International and Public Affairs John Eason recently co-authored an article published by the Urban Institute titled "Debunking Four Myths about the Prison Building Boom Supporting Mass Incarceration."
The United States leads all developed countries in incarceration rates, caging more than 2 million people a year since the mid-1990s. In response to mass incarceration and the prison building boom, criminal legal system reformers and abolitionists across the political spectrum have advocated for change. Although this work has provided a window for new policies to reduce overreliance on prisons, these advocacy efforts haven’t produced lasting reform because they haven’t centered the communities where prisons are most likely to be built—rural communities of color.
As a result of the prison boom, which saw a tripling of facilities built between 1970 and 1990, narratives around prisons tend to center the perspectives of northern inner-city communities, rendering rural communities and their perspectives invisible. As a result, reformers and abolitionists overlook evidence-based findings that could provide important context needed to create momentum for change in prison policy.
By putting forward a new narrative that centers rural communities of color, we can better inform a debate that tends to settle into two camps: reformers who argue the system can be fixed with little or no harm and abolitionists who believe the system is unsalvageable and should not exist in its current form. Here, we focus on debunking four myths surrounding the prison boom in the hopes of creating a new discussion on how to responsibly close prisons and curb prison demand.