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Addicted to Incarceration

Addicted to Incarceration
Corrections Policy and the Politics of Misinformation in the United States

Second Edition

November 2018 | 160 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
In Addicted to Incarceration, author Travis C. Pratt uses an evidence-based approach to explore the consequences of what he terms America's "addiction to incarceration." Highlighting the scope of the issue, the nature of the political discussions surrounding criminal justice policy in general and corrections policy in particular, and the complex social cost of incarceration, this book takes an incisive look at the approach to corrections in the United States.

 The Second Edition demonstrates that the United States' addiction to incarceration has been fueled by American citizens' opinions about crime and punishment, the use of incarceration as a means of social control, and perhaps most important, by policies legitimized by faulty information. Analyzing crime policies as they relate to crime rates and society's ability to both lower the crime rate and address the role of incarceration in preventing future crime, this book shows students how ineffective the rush to incarcerate has been in the past and offers recommendations and insights to navigate this significant problem going forward. 

Preface to the Second Edition
New to the Second Edition
1. Introduction
The Politics and Consequences of Incarceration  
Discussion Questions  
Key Readings  
2. The Politics of Punishment in the United States
Problem Ownership, Punishment Philosophies, and Changes in Corrections Policy Over Time  
Political Capital and Getting Tough  
The Rise of Evidence-Based Correctional Policy  
Discussion Questions  
Key Readings  
3. Misinformation About the Crime Problem
Victimization and the Fear of Crime  
Nonserious Crime as Gateway Offending?  
Incapacitation and Errors in Prediction  
Discussion Questions  
Key Readings  
4. Misinformation About Public Opinion
Global Versus Specific Attitudes About Punishment  
Public Support for Alternative Punishment Philosophies  
Discussion Questions  
Key Readings  
5. Misinformation About Prisons and Crime Control
Prisons and Crime Control: The Empirical Evidence  
Rethinking Offender Decision Making  
Discussion Questions  
Key Readings  
6. The Social Costs of Incarceration
Consequences of Incarceration for Offenders  
Consequences of Incarceration for Families and Children  
Consequences of Incarceration for Communities  
Consequences of Incarceration for Social Institutions  
The Case of Immigration, Crime, and Punishment  
Discussion Questions  
Key Readings  
7. Conclusions and Recommendations
The Persistent Addiction  
Rethinking Crime Control Policy  
Rethinking Corrections Policy  
Reconnecting Evidence With Policy  
Parting Thoughts: Breaking the Addiction  
Discussion Questions  
Key Readings  
About the Author

“Few texts are willing to interrogate the phenomena of mass incarceration on such a personal scale.”

Ed Bowman
Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania

“This text is an excellent resource to any instructor that wants to engage the curiosity of their students on core correctional topics, while simultaneously not bogging them down with too much information. In particular, this text does a great job at providing the appropriate amount of information that will serve as a catalyst for engaging class discussions on key correctional topics that have and continue to face the United States. There is an appropriate balance of factual evidence with narrative.”

Andrew S. Denney
University of West Florida

“The book develops an argument about society’s tendency to feed on mass incarceration.”

Michelle C. Watkins
El Paso Community College

“It is a brief text, but provides good information for students and provides nice themes for debate. More books should be like this.”

Chad R. Trulson
University of North Texas

“I strongly believe that this textbook represents an important and much needed critical discourse on the corrections system. This book is an intellectual and scholarly achievement for advancing the knowledge of both undergraduate and graduate students studying correctional theory, policy, and the legal processes reinforcing the corrections system. This is a user-friendly text that invites the reader to critically examine the controversial and often unmentioned aspects of correctional policy through an active review of the research and scholarly literature.”

Sriram Chintakrindi
California State University, Stanislaus

“A great undergraduate criminal justice text that sheds light on the overuse of incarceration as a form of punishment in the United States, strongly supported by empirical evidence.”

Caron Jacobson
Governors State University

“The text succinctly explains to readers how the United States has become the world’s leader in incarcerating its own people (particularly poor people and people of color) and the grave costs that doing this has and will continue to have on communities throughout this country. Far from being irreversible, the text details what needs to change and sketches out what progressive policymakers, scholars, and concerned people can do about it.”

Tim Goddard
Florida International University
Key features


  • The text has been thoroughly updated to reflect the policy changes implemented by the Trump administration, encouraging timely classroom discussions.
  • Discussion questions and suggested readings have been added to the end of each chapter, keeping students focused on important concepts and better supporting their learning.
  • Coverage of key new topics highlight changes in correctional practices and include the rise of evidence-based crime control and corrections policy and an overview of the revival of the rational/choice deterrence, get-tough philosophy in recent years.
  • Increasing the focus on the social cost of incarceration for vulnerable populations, a discussion of the consequences of incarceration for families and children of incarcerated parents, as well as a new section on immigration, crime, and punishment, has been added.
  • The final chapter has been fully revised and focuses on recommendations for the future, particularly with tips for readers on how to evaluate the validity and reliability of scientific information in a critical way.
  • The statistics, data, and research has been updated to clearly show the state of the correctional system in the United States today.


  • Real world examples open each chapter and put a human face on the discussed topics.
  • Race, ethnicity, and gender issues underlie all discussions and address key aspects of incarceration rates and crime trends.
  • The social costs of incarceration are explored, including the heightened inmate risk of personal victimization, incarceration's effect as a barrier to successful offender reintegration into society, and its role in exacerbating existing racial inequalities.

Sample Materials & Chapters


Chapter 1: Introduction

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