How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World

"This is an historic moment for criminal justice reform, with unprecedented bipartisan support for reducing prison populations. But in order to effectively dismantle mass incarceration, we must understand the forces that got us there. Peter Enns masterfully dissects the political and social processes that led to the US becoming the world's leader in incarceration, illustrating the central importance of mass public opinion in driving the punitive turn in correctional policy. The book is a welcome addition to the scholarship on mass incarceration, challenging many prevailing views and giving us important new insights on the past, present, and future of criminal justice reform." 

  • Devah Pager, Harvard University

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The rise of mass incarceration in the United States is one of the most critical outcomes of the last half-century. Incarceration Nation offers the most compelling explanation of this outcome to date. This book combines in-depth analysis of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon's presidential campaigns with sixty years of data analysis. The result is a sophisticated and highly accessible picture of the rise of mass incarceration. In contrast to conventional wisdom, Peter K. Enns shows that during the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, politicians responded to an increasingly punitive public by pushing policy in a more punitive direction. The book also argues that media coverage of rising crime rates helped fuel the public's punitiveness. Equally as important, a decline in public punitiveness in recent years offers a critical window into understanding current bipartisan calls for criminal justice reform.