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Punishment: The U.S Record

16th Social Research Conference November 30 - December 1, 2006

The conference examined the foundations of our ideas of punishment, explored the social effects of current practices and searched for viable alternatives to our carceral state. Our nation's prison population has soared by more than 600% since the 1970s, despite a drop in crime rates. As of 2005, over two million people were imprisoned in this country: almost one in every 136 U.S. residents. Black men, who make up 6% of the U.S. population, comprise over 40% of our prison population. A black male born today has a 32% chance of spending time in prison. Eleven states do not allow ex-cons to vote. Nearly 2,800,000 American children have at least one parent in prison or jail. What does this mean for our democracy? Where do our concepts of punishment come from? What is the effect on our families, communities and the economy of our staggeringly high incarceration rate?

This conference was made possible with generous support from the Russell Sage Foundation, the Open Society Institute’s U.S. Justice Fund, the Ford Foundation and the J.M. Kaplan Fund. The conference was also cosponsored by the ACLU and the PEN America Center.

To order the related issue of Social Research: An International Quarterly



Thursday, November 30

Session I: Why We Punish: The Foundation of Our Concepts of Punishment Historical and Comparative Perspectives on Punishment


James Q. Whitman, Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law, Yale Law School The Legacy of Theology (Transgression, redemption, atonement, retribution and forgiveness)

Moshe Halbertal, Professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University and the Gruss Professor at NYU Law School

Punishment and the Spirit of Democracy

George Kateb, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Princeton University

Beyond the Cultural Turn: 21st Century Meditations on Punishment

Bernard E. Harcourt, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of Academic Affairs at The Law School, University of Chicago

Moderator: Suzanne Last Stone, Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Director of Jewish Law and Interdisciplinary Studies

Session II: What and How We Punish: Law, Justice and Punishment

Changes in the Law: From the Present to the Past to the Present

Michael Tonry, Marvin J. Sonosky Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of Minnesota Law School

Economic Models of Crime and Punishment

John J. Donohue III, Professor of Law, Yale Law School

Retribution and the "Desert" Model: Should Punishment Fit The Crime?

Andrew von Hirsch, Honorary Professor of Penal Theory and Penal Law, Cambridge University and Director of the Centre for Penal Theory and Penal Ethics

The Forms and Functions of American Capital Punishment

David Garland, Arthur T. Vanderbilt Professor of Law and Professor of Sociology, New York University

Moderator: James Jacobs, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the Courts Director, Center for Research in Crime and Justice, New York University

Session III: Special Event

Richard Gere and Carey Lowell Read Prison Writings (The PEN America Center cosponsored this event; Audio recordings of the readings are available online.)

Friday, December 1

Session IV: Who We Punish: The Carceral State

The Rise of the Carceral State

Jonathan Simon, Associate Dean, Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, and Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley

Inequality and Punishment

Bruce Western, Professor of Sociology, Princeton University

When is Imprisonment Not a Punishment?: Immigrants and Immigration

Mark Dow, Author of American Gulag

Supermax as a Technology of Punishment

Lorna A. Rhodes, Professor of Anthropology, University of Washington

Moderator: Susan Tucker, Director, The After Prison Initiative, Open Society Institute's U.S. Justice Fund

Session V: Consequences of a Carceral State

The Social Effects of Imprisonment: A Labor Market Perspective

David Weiman, Alena Wels Hirschorn '58 Professor of Economics, Barnard College

The Impacts of Incarceration on Public Safety

Todd Clear, Distinguished Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Hitting Home: How Perpetual Punishment Hurts Families

Elizabeth Gaynes, Executive Director, The Osborne Association

Incarceration and Reentry Reforms in an Era of Robust Democracy

Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Moderator: Deborah Mukamal, Director, Prisoner Reentry Institute, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York

Session VI: Round-table Discussion on Alternatives to a Carceral State

Gordon Bazemore, Professor of Criminal Justice, Florida Atlantic University

Stephen B. Bright, President and Senior Counsel, Southern Center for Human Rights, Visiting Lecturer in Law, Harvard and Yale Law Schools

Nancy Gertner, Judge, U.S. District Court, Boston

Marie Gottschalk, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

James Jacobs, Chief Justice, Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the Courts Director, Center for Research in Crime and Justice, New York University;

Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project; Christopher Uggen, Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota Moderator: Brent Staples, Editorial Writer, Member of the Editorial Board, The New York Times

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