Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bruce Western's "Punishment and Inequality in America"

Bruce Western is Professor of Sociology at Princeton University.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his book Punishment and Inequality in America and reported the following:
The page 99 test is stern indeed. I fear that I may have failed. Read page 99, and my book Punishment and Inequality in America comes across as too much social science. It says: "Earlier research on selection and average wages focused on trends from the 1960s through the 1980s. I study wage inequality through the 1980s and 1990s by analyzing data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and correctional surveys of inmates."

The main message would have fared better with a page 189 test: "In the last decades of the twentieth century, mass imprisonment became a fact of American life. The deep involvement of poor black men in the criminal justice system became normal. Those drawn into the net of the penal system live differently from the rest of us. Employment is more insecure, wages are lower. Families are disrupted as incarceration separates children from their fathers and breaks up couples. Pervasive incarceration and its effects on economic opportunity and family life have given the penal system a central role in the lives of the urban poor."

For better or worse, we need some social science to show that the growth of the American penal system has produced a devastating transformation of American race relations. The empirical story is sometimes dry in its details, but a prison system that now puts 1 in 5 black men behind bars is no less an injustice of historic proportions.
Read the Introduction to Punishment and Inequality in America and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue