Social Structure, Crime, Cultural Values and Punishment: A National Analysis of Adult Imprisonment Trends

Rick Ruddell, University of Missouri - St. Louis

Rusche-Kirchheimer proposed that there is a direct positive association between unemployment and imprisonment. Empirical tests of the Rusche-Kirchheimer hypothesis, however, have resulted in inconsistent outcomes. This research tests the proposition that economic instability, represented by a factor comprised of changes in the consumer price index, bankruptcies, long-term unemployment and income inequality is a better predictor of the use of imprisonment. Controlling for violent crime, economic instability is used as a baseline model to test the ability of the social threat and conflict models to explain the expansion in American prison admissions from 1972 to 2000. Self-report data from the National Election Studies Survey and the General Social Survey are used as measures of attitudes towards race, punitive ideology and cultural stability.

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Updated 05/20/2006