In reading Lynch’s chapter regarding the growth of the American prison system, I believe that his thesis is that 1973 was a focus point for understanding the rate of growth or decline for incarceration rates. Lynch examines the different rates of incarceration compared to police efforts to combat crime from 1925-2005, however he uses 1973 as a focal point.
Lynch uses many examples throughout the chapter to confirm his thesis. The chapter describes how the rate of growth between 1930 and 1976 had doubled to 262,833 inmates. While the incarceration rate had doubled, the population of the United Stated had increased 74 percent over the 1930 level. This is the first of many confusions regarding the growth of the prison system.
The thesis is stated implicitly after graphing prison populations saying, “The year 1973 marked the beginning of a period of expansive prison growth regardless of how the growth is measured.” This statement describes how Lynch feels about the statistics of prison inmate growth. I believe that he feels that there is no defining reason for growth or decline in any particular year.
There are three examples given as to possible reason for the expansion of the prison system. One is that the expansion correlates to the rise of crime across the nation. Another is that there has been changes in law enforcement policies which may lead to higher incarceration rates. Lastly, Lynch states that there may be social economic issues that may require an increase in social control, leading to a need to expand our prison system.
An example of how the incarceration rate increased after 1973 is that the prison population from 1930-1972, doubled only once. Since 1973, the inmate population doubled over ten years from 1973-1983, and again for nine years from 1983-2002. However, it is important to note that this chapter merely describes the increases and decreases. Lynch’s book does not implicitly explain any single reason why the inmate populations changes during certain periods. One of the confusions relates to the “baby boom effect”. The theory is that as the baby boomers reached ages between 18 and 24, the thinking is that the crime rate and incarceration rate would increase. However, the increase in crime rates does not happen until 10 years after the effect should be taking place. Meaning that the increases are when the people are ages 28-34. We would think that people of this age group would have outgrown the need for misdemeanors or non-violent felonies.
A summary of the two periods (1925-1973, 1973-2005) explains that the first period is inconsistent with regards to growth. This period is viewed as having increases and decreases throughout the period. However, the second period, after the expansion of the prison system in 1973, is marked with a consistent growth for the entire period. Again, there is no single reason for the increases. There are many theories from social economic policies, to changes in law enforcement efforts, to government involvement, including World War II.
The thesis that I have pinpointed is explained throughout examples in the chapter. I believe that Lynch is correct in his thesis in that the expansion in 1973 has led to an increase in criminal incarceration. One thing that I found concerning is that Lynch cannot narrow down an explanation for either an increase or decrease. Each period is explained by one reason or another, however each reason is different for each period.