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Article Title

The Prison Boom and Sentencing Policy

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Abstract

The existing literature on the role of changes in sentencing policies as drivers of growth in prison populations contains findings that appear contradictory. We present a new method for characterizing changes in the severity of expected punishments for offenders and build a new simulation model based on this method. We provide clear evidence that changes in sentencing policy drove recent growth in prison populations in the United States, and our approach sheds light on the reasons that some previous studies did not reach this conclusion. The shift to more punitive sentencing policies had a disproportionate effect on black communities, even though, for the most part, this shift did not target blacks or crimes that blacks commit relatively more than whites.

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