Theories Of Mass Incarceration

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America is experiencing a social phenomenon commonly referred to as mass incarceration, in which the rate of incarceration has increased by, “...has grown by 700 percent.(Goffman)” in the last 40 years. Mass incarceration is difficult to digest in totality due to its immense nature, nuance and variety of answers with the essence of ‘could be right’. In order to decipher the complex puzzle of mass incarceration, we must establish borders to manifest clarifying order in the overwhelming clutter of data. Theory will assist in demonstrating how the general and specific facts of issues, in this case mass incarceration, relate by essentially declaring the philosophical frame of the interpretation. In order to gain a nuanced understanding of America’s mass incarceration, three relatively distinct theories will be applied: conflict theory, structural functionalism and symbolic interactionism. These theories are categorized by two approaches of sociological investigation- macrosociological, which emphasizes the analysis of social systems and populations on a large scale, and micro sociological, which emphasizes the impact individuals have on social structure. Structural Functionalism’s origin is shared by three individuals, Robert Merton, Talcott Parsons, and Emile Durkheim. Simply put, the current rates of mass incarceration should not be looked at as a negative product of a broken institution, but instead as the necessary enforcement of social structure by the criminal justice
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