Prisons and Punishment in America
Examining the Facts
by Michael O'Hear
September 2018, 241pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, ABC-CLIO

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-5542-9
$70, £54, 61€, A96
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-5543-6
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

A generation ago, the incarceration rate in the U.S. resembled those of most other Western democratic nations. Now it is several times higher than that of nearly every other country in the world.

Synthesizing the latest scholarship in law and the social sciences on criminal sentencing and corrections, this book provides a thorough, balanced, and accessible survey of the major policy issues in these fields of persistent public interest and political debate.

After three decades of explosive growth, the American incarceration rate is impracticably high. Drawing on leading research in law and the social sciences, this book covers a range of topics in sentencing and corrections in America in a manner that is accessible and engaging for general readers.

Tackling high-level issues in the criminal justice system, it outlines the scale and causes of mass incarceration in the United States. To complement this, it details the roles and relative power of judges and prosecutors, the severity of punishment for drug offenders and white-collar offenders, the abuse of prisoners and the enforcement of prisoner rights, and repeat offending by released prisoners. It examines challenges that come with a high incarceration rate, such as the management of mental illness in the criminal justice system, the management of sex offenders, and the impact of parental incarceration on children. Looking ahead, it considers prospects for reducing current incarceration levels, the availability and effectiveness of alternatives to incarceration, and the future of capital punishment.


  • Provides readers with an accessible introduction to important, timely topics of public debate
  • Maintains a neutral, balanced perspective on a subject often a matter of heated partisanship
  • Reveals the subtle connections between different aspects of the criminal justice system that are often missed in policy discussions
  • Synthesizes leading academic work in law and the social sciences
  • Provides a balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of significant reform proposals
Michael O’Hear is professor at Marquette University Law School, where he teaches criminal law and procedure. His other books include The Failure of Sentencing Reform and Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era: How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway. He is also author of more than 60 scholarly articles and book chapters on criminal law and sentencing, and an editor of the journal Federal Sentencing Reporter. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute and formerly served as a member of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission.


"The first page of this book clearly defines its intended audience and that of the other Contemporary Debates volumes: 'high school and undergraduate students as well as members of the general public.' That clearly designates the kinds of libraries that will benefit most from adding this title to their collections. This series has examined other topics of current interest: climate change, the Affordable Care Act, Muslims, marijuana, journalism and 'fake news,' and immigration. These other books should be of similar interest to libraries considering this one."—ARBA, December 6, 2018

Contemporary Debates

Each title in the Contemporary Debates series examines the veracity of controversial claims or beliefs surrounding a major political/cultural issue in the United States. The purpose of the series is to give readers a clear and unbiased understanding of current issues by informing them about falsehoods, half-truths, and misconceptions—and confirming the factual validity of other assertions—that have gained traction in America's political and cultural discourse. Ultimately, this series gives readers the tools for a fuller understanding of controversial issues, policies, and laws that occupy center stage in American life and politics.
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