Studies suggest that the spatial distribution of punishment in the United States is shifting. This article analyzes variation in prison admissions across U.S. counties to deepen our understanding of the contemporary geography of punishment. While research on punishment generally treats economic and political theories of punishment as distinct, we draw on recent studies of penal attitudes to develop a theoretical argument regarding their possible interconnection. We then use Hierarchical Linear Modeling to test the hypothesis that conservatism, race, and disadvantage are associated with the use of prison and that these factors help to explain why prison admission rates are higher in rural and suburban counties than in urban ones, despite notably higher crime rates in the latter. The results indicate that nonurban counties send more people to prison than urban counties and that socioeconomic disadvantage, the size of the Black population, and conservatism are significant predictors of prison admissions after controlling for crime-related problems. These findings suggest that poverty, race, and politics work in concert to shape the distribution of punishment across 21st century America.
Beckett, K., & Beach, L. (2021). Understanding the place of punishment: Disadvantage, politics, and the geography of imprisonment in 21st century America. Law and Policy, 43(1), 5–29. https://doi.org/10.1111/lapo.12161