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Has the massive increase in the number of Americans imprisoned over the last two decades been helpful or harmful to the communities that all would agree are those most in need of deliverance from crime and the negative effects that accompany it? That is the question that Lynch and Sabol attempt to answer here.
When the engineers of policies devoted to making prison sentences both harsher and more prevalent developed their ideas, they would likely be surprised that such a question could be asked. These boosters claimed that their law-and-order program clearly benefited minority inner-city residents by addressing and reducing the high levels of crime residents regularly experience. A statement made by former Attorney General William Barr concerning heavy penalties for certain drug offenders is representative: "The benefits of increased incarceration would be enjoyed disproportionately by Black Americans" (Tonry, 1995, quoting Barr) And, we might add, in the neighborhoods in which they live. Lynch and Sabol tell us, however, that to the extent that there has been a benefit in the form of crime reduction from mass incarceration, it does not appear to have devolved to the community or even neighborhood level. This is true despite the fact that much evidence clearly demonstrates that removal of offenders is not distributed equally across geographic space.
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