Did mass incarceration lead to the disproportionate admission of minorities and marginal offenders?

Richard B. Felson, Andrew T. Krajewski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Research Summary: We examine the effects of mass incarceration on the admission of minority and marginal (i.e., first-time) offenders to state prisons. Our analyses are based on six waves of data from the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities from 1973 to 2004. The results suggest that the era of mass incarceration led to increased incarceration of Hispanic offenders relative to White offenders, but not Black offenders relative to White offenders. Disproportional incarceration did occur, however, during some periods. For example, during the early period of mass incarceration, there was a disproportional increase in the admission of Hispanics and marginal offenders. In the late 1980s, during the “War on Drugs,” the likelihood that admissions were Black or Hispanic drug offenders increased, but the likelihood that admissions were marginal offenders did not. Policy Implications: Our results provide further evidence of the perils of punitive policies. The tendency to overreact to crime problems sometimes, but not always, leads to the disproportionate incarceration of minority and marginal offenders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1209-1229
Number of pages21
JournalCriminology and Public Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Administration
  • Law


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