The Bar-Spangled Manner. Rethinking the American Justice System

Thumbnail Image
Issue Date
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
America is home to five percent of the global population, yet houses twenty-five percent of the global prisoners (Gottschalk, 2011). Prisons are full to the brim and conditions are dreadful, so the contemporary penal regime is in urgent need of reevaluation. Many studies scrutinize the economic implications of mass incarceration, but much less attention has been paid to the collateral consequences of the current penal policy. This thesis will explore different aspects of the carceral state, with a focus on how it affects individual prisoners and their communities. The research question is: How effective and efficient is the American penal system in realizing the societal objectives of criminal punishment? Chapter one explains the four main justifying rationales for punishment: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation. Justice systems are founded on one or more of these rationales. Chapter two explores the main factors that contributed to the prison boom and goes on to discuss different facets of the contemporary penal system. In chapter three the focus will shift towards the collateral consequences of imprisonment for the individual convict, supplemented with broader implications for society at large. The collateral consequences will be structured by subsequently addressing economic impediments, denial of civil rights, and denial of social and welfare rights. Findings indicate that justice policy is still geared to the harsh punitive war on crime, epitomized by Raegan. The inheritance of harsh sentencing laws and collateral consequences jeopardize the justice system as well as the chances ex-prisoners have of successful reentry.
Faculteit der Letteren