Does mass incarceration make America more culturally progressive?

Two statements that I think are probably true:

  1. Putting people in prison minimizes their cultural influence.
  2. Prison inmates tend to have “regressive” cultural attitudes, at least on some important issues, relative to the general population.

If these statements are true, then it stands to reason that the high rate of imprisonment in the US tends to make our culture more progressive, and that a major reduction in the rate of incarceration would have the opposite effect.

I would, of course, still be in favor of such a reduction, but people who consider themselves progressive should be prepared for the cultural effect of welcoming what amounts to a large migration of people from a rather backward country.

What does that mean? What is “regressive” and what are those issues?


This is like saying that it’s a good thing to lock up people and define them as criminals, because they’re criminals, look at these people that we’ve locked up and defined as criminals, they’re a bunch of freaking criminals, so they deserve to be locked up.

Mass incarceration and progressivism don’t generally go together. Especially not a huge state apparatus dedicated to the drug war.

If the OP is saying that prisoners vote mostly Republican or have conservative views, well, good luck with that premise.

If the OP is saying that criminality encourages the general population to have a right wing backlash for “law and order,” that could be true. That menality doesn’t seem to go away, though.

If the OP is saying that criminal culture itself is regressive, I’m not sure. A better word might be degenerate. Even then, some aspects of progressivism could be described as degenerate (drug use, sexual liberty, antipathy to the family), but that depends on your POV.

I already said it in the OP, but let me reiterate that I am in favor of letting a large percentage of currently incarcerated people go free.

Most of the people that you are thinking about letting go free are basically in jail on possessions charges.

How are these people regressives (and wtf does regressive mean).

ISTM that these people in jail on possessions charges are minorities. Are the minority drug users more regressive than the average American?

In this survey of prison chaplains, 41% said that religious extremism was “somewhat common” or “very common” among inmates.

Religious extremism is regressive.

Is that higher or lower than the national non-inmate average?

No, I’m thinking about letting a lot more people go free than just those incarcerated on drug possession charges.

To really cut the prison population, we are going to have to release a lot of people who feel, for example, that violence is proof of manhood. That’s a regressive view.

Does mass incarceration make America more culturally progressive?

First, cite that America has “mass incarceration”. Yes, the USA does have the highest *documented * *incarceration rate in the world, sure. But why is that “mass incarceration”?

*China, North Korea, etc certainly have more.

Black Americans and poor white Americans are particularly likely to feel that disobedient children should be beaten. These same groups are overrepresented in prison. I would bet money that the prison population is fairly regressive on the issue of child discipline.

It’s not an important distinction. Replace “mass incarceration” with “high rate of incarceration” and my position remains the same.

I think the OP has it backward. Apart from the white-collar prisons, inmates are disproportionately likely to be from social and economic classes that would typically lean Democratic.

It is important. It’s like “mass murder” vs “high murder rate”.

Democratic Party affiliation is not the same thing as progressiveness.

My point was that you’re begging the question — perhaps not as succinctly and severely as my reworded statement about criminals tending to be criminal, but you’re NOT talking about the characteristics of a population that possibly could or should be incarcerated, you’re talking about the population of people who are in fact incarcerated; then in light of their characteristics (“regressive” ones) you ask the question “does mass incarceration [therefore] make America more culturally progressive”, leaving out the really huge causal variable in that analysis. We PUT those people there. Now we observe them to have certain characteristics. Do we get to argue that it’s a good thing that we put them there, given their characteristics, or is it reasonable to consider that the ACT OF putting them there has inculcated in them those very characteristics?

From what I know of prison sociology, it is entirely reasonable to think they’ve got those characteristics precisely because they are in a prison environment.

He didn’t refer to political party orientation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a less nuanced view of cultural mores among the prison population. However, I do not see how that translates to some significant change in cultural attitudes in this country. As shameful as it is to have millions of people locked up in this country they still represent a very small percentage of the population, and they won’t be that heavily skewed in any direction. If they are 10% more “regressive” than the population at large that would represent a change of less than one tenth of 1% overall. And even then many of the proposed newly released prisoners would not have the right to vote, as all those former prisoners already released don’t have as well.

Racism is regressive. Prisons are hotbeds of racism (PDF).

You’re mixing up cause and effect. From your cite:

We’re not imprisoning religious people, we’re “religi-fying” imprisoned people.