Punishment and Social Structure at the State Level: A Cross-Sectional Comparison of 1970 and 1980

Raymond J. Michalowski, Michael A. Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


In recent years, much of the sociological analysis concerning the relationship between punishment and social structure has centered around theories of fiscal constraint and penal discipline. The fiscal constraint model suggests that levels of imprisonment will be sensitive to levels of available public revenue. The penal discipline model posits a relationship between unemployment and imprisonment that exists independent of rates of crime. These two propositions, with controls for region, crime, race, and urbanization, are tested using a cross-sectional analysis of the 50 states for 1970 and 1980. Contrary to the two theories, the findings indicate that neither public revenue nor level of unemployment were significantly related to interstate variation in rates of imprisonment. The distinction between southern and non-southern states appeared as the most significant predictor of imprisonment. Analyses of non-southern states indicated that only the rate of violent crime and the proportion of black males in the population were significantly correlated with variations in rates of imprisonment, though the relationship between revenue and imprisonment strengthened somewhat between 1970 and 1980.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-78
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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